This is the first in a series of upcoming articles on Naturalization. This article will serve as a simple introduction to the process of Naturalization and general eligibility requirements. This educational series is in part a product of our work for the United States Military's Naturalization Project, and a result of what appears to be a trend in the rise of removal proceedings being instituted against long-term lawful permanent residents of the United States.
Lately I have had the misfortune of representing many long-term lawful permanent residents in deportation proceedings because they never saw fit to completing the immigration process. One such case was recently profiled in Quincy Jones' VIBE magazine. These individuals never obtained their U.S. citizenship because they thought it would cost too much or take too much of their time. Some people even harbored under the erroneous impression that they were ineligible for citizenship on account of minor criminal convictions. These misconceptions have resulted in endangering their eligibility to live in this country.
Now, as they speak to a judge and face a trial attorney from the Immigration Service who seeks their removal, they realize that Naturalization was easy compared too what they are facing. As they plead for mercy before the court and testify to the fact that they are for all intents and purposes an American, the natural inquiry from the bench or opposing counsel is: then why didn't you become a citizen. To prevent such inquiries in the future, here's a small part of what you need to know.
Anyone 18 years of age or older who has been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years (3 years if residency was obtained through marriage to a United States citizen) and has lived at least half of that time in the U.S. is eligible to naturalize. If you fall into this category you may proceed by filing form N400 with the Immigration Service Center with jurisdiction over your place of residence. Once this form is received by the Immigration Service you are on your way, processing of your citizenship has begun.
After the application is submitted, you will receive a notice from the Service Center acknowledging receipt and a referral requesting that you go to an Application Support Center for submission of your fingerprints. These fingerprints are required of all applicants and is the primary means the Immigration Service checks an applicants criminal history.
At some point, generally less than a year after submission of the application, the Immigration Service will notify you of your interview time and place. You will receive about 10-days advance notice and if you are unable to attend at that time you may request a rescheduling.
At time of your interview you will be asked to verify your answers to the questions found in the application. In addition, you will be asked history question to verify your knowledge of basic U.S. history and you will be required to write in English to verify your basic grasp of the English language. The interview lasts approximately 30 minutes and if completed successfully the immigration officer will give the applicant a letter congratulating them on passing the exam. It is important to note here that the applicant is not a citizen at this time. At the oath ceremony scheduled within a few months of the exam is where the applicant becomes a citizen. You must demonstrate that you are a person of good moral character up to the time of the swearing in ceremony.
The process is normally as simple as it appears. Complications do arise, however, when applicants have criminal convictions or significant absences from the United States. In any event, if you are eligible for Naturalization, take the necessary steps and apply. Not everyone, however, is eligible for naturalization despite long term permanent residence in the United States. Those persons who aren't eligible to apply but to do anyway may find themselves in the immigration court facing deportation. Prior to prosecuting an application for benefits, make sure to educate yourself. As stated above, this is merely the first in a series of articles that will assist in your learning process.