Determining Whether You Really Want to Become a U.S. Citizen
Becoming a U.S. citizen carries important duties and responsibilities, as well as rights, rewards, and privileges. Before you make the decision to pursue U.S. citizenship, you need to be aware of what you stand to lose and what you stand to gain and be sure you're ready to fulfill all the obligations of a good citizen.
Naturalization refers to the process by which immigrants become citizens. In most cases, if you were not born in the United States, you must be naturalized to become a U.S. citizen.
What you lose
When you become a U.S. citizen, you must give up all prior allegiances to other countries. Although nobody will care if you root for your birth country in a soccer match (actually, some soccer fans may care, but the U.S. government certainly won't), you won't be able to defend that country against the United States in times of conflict or war. You must also be willing to serve your new country, the United States of America, when required. What this means is that if the U.S. is at war or in the midst of some other type of crisis, you need to be willing to take up arms for the U.S. or otherwise aid the military effort in whatever capacity is needed.
Giving up your allegiances to other countries doesn't necessarily mean you have to give up your citizenship in other countries. You may be able to maintain your original citizenship(s) and hold U.S. citizenship (having citizenship in more than one country is known as dual citizenship). The United States allows dual citizenship (though it is disfavored). Some countries do not allow dual citizenship. If you are a citizen of such a country, you will likely give up your citizenship upon naturalizing to U.S. citizenship. This information may affect your decision to apply for U.S. citizenship. To find out if your citizenship can be affected, check with the embassy of each country in which you have citizenship.
What you gain
The United States Constitution, the country's most important document and essentially the rulebook for how the U.S. government runs, guarantees all people living in the United States, whether U.S. citizens or not, certain rights. Freedom of religion and speech, the right to peaceable assembly, and the right to a fair trial if you're ever accused of a crime are all important freedoms guaranteed to everyone in the United States.
U.S. citizens, both born and naturalized, however, are eligible for many additional benefits based on their status as U.S. citizens. These include the following:
- The right to vote and, therefore, to have a voice in government
- The right to hold elected office (except for the offices of President and Vice President, which are reserved for natural-born citizens)
- Certain government jobs
- Public education
- The ability to petition for immediate relatives to join you in the U.S. without being subject to visa limits
- Protection from forced removal from the country
- Certain types of public assistance
Your rights and responsibilities as a U.S. citizen
When you become a naturalized U.S. citizen, you must take the Oath of Allegiance. The Oath of Allegiance is your promise to the government and the people of the United States that you will
- Support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States against all enemies.
- Support, defend, and obey the laws of the United States.
- Swear allegiance to the United States.
- Serve the United States, if required, in times of war or national emergency. You may be called to serve in the military or help U.S. military efforts in some capacity.
- Give up any prior allegiances to other countries.
In addition to the responsibilities outlined in the Oath of Allegiance, U.S. citizens have other important duties:
- Serving on a jury: One of the most important rights in the U.S. is the right to a trial by a jury in most cases. Serving on a jury when asked is an important obligation of U.S. citizens in order to protect the U.S. system of justice, in which the power still rests with the people.
- Although there is a small chance you may never be called to report for jury duty, know that if you do receive a notice to report, you're legally compelled to do so. Failure to report for jury duty can result in a fine, jail time, or both.
- Voting: The United States has a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The ultimate political authority is not in the hands of the government or of any single government official — instead, the ultimate political authority is in the hands of the people. Citizens of the United States have the right to change or abolish the government or to amend the Constitution. U.S. citizens exercise their power by voting for elected representatives.
- Being tolerant of others: The U.S. is a melting pot, a combination of many different cultures and ethnic races. People living here need to be tolerant of all races, religions, and cultures.
Although you aren't legally compelled to perform some of these duties — for instance, no one will take you to jail if you don't exercise your right to vote — you will deprive yourself of the important benefits of living in the United States if you don't participate.