Immigration has recently been a topic of great debate, with the influx of illegal immigrants and the subsequent effects on America’s economy and culture. However, many people often ignore the flip side: legal immigration and the thousands of people accepted as citizens of the United States every month.
I immigrated to the United States from Belgium just over nine years ago. For most of those nine years, I considered myself a foreigner, despite the fact that I easily adjusted to American culture and quickly lost my accent. During that time, I referred to Americans as “they” and “you guys”, and never as “us” or “we.” I believed that if I called myself an American, I would somehow obtain all of the stereotypes that are commonly associated with American people. I could never have been more wrong.
Just over a month ago, I obtained American citizenship through my father, who applied for naturalization, the process of obtaining citizenship, many months ago. I was still under the age of eighteen when he obtained his citizenship, so I was spared the grueling process of applying. In fact, he obtained his citizenship just days before my eighteenth birthday, not without difficulty.
In order to obtain citizenship through naturalization, one must first meet certain requirements, as described by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The applicant in question must be at least eighteen years old, must have been a permanent resident (green card-holder) for at least five years (although there are certain exceptions to this rule, for instance if you are married to an American citizen, the requirement drops down to three years), must have a period of continued residence in the US, and must be able to read, write, and speak basic English (although, again, there are certain exceptions). Furthermore, the USCIS states that an applicant should be “a person of good moral character,” a quality which they look for in citizen-prospects. Once someone meets these requirements they can begin their application for American citizenship.
First, one must submit form N-400, the Application for Naturalization, which is complex in its own right and must be accompanied by the filing fee: $595 plus $85 for the biometrics fee, for a total of $680. Some time later, the applicant should receive a notification for the biometrics appointment (fingerprinting) for FBI background checks. These steps were passed by my family without any issues. They were then placed in a queue for interviews and scheduled for one, not much later, until that was randomly cancelled so they were re-entered into the queue. My father, flustered that the process was taking so long, did the only thing he knew to do and put on his suit (a rare occasion) and took a trip to one of their offices. Despite not having an appointment, he managed to intimidate his way in and talk to some of the people in charge. Apparently, the files for their applications had been misplaced and were still across the country somewhere. He managed to have his file retrieved and shipped over, allowing him to have his interview in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do anything about the other files (my mother’s and older siblings’ files), and so they still have yet to have their interview. This interview, in addition to questions about the applicant’s N-400 form, includes the English and Civics Test (also known as the citizenship test). If one fails this test, the application for citizenship is continued and a new interview is scheduled (within 60-90 days of the first). Upon failing a second time, citizenship is denied. My father passed the first time at which point, he was set to become an American citizen. For the last step, he had to attend an Oath Ceremony, where a number of people like himself come to take the Oath of Allegiance and receive their certificate of Naturalization and are officially recognized as American citizens.
Part of taking the Oath of Allegiance requires that one “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty” (USCIS). Despite the fact that the United States recognizes dual citizenship with many (but not all) countries, it is made clear that from this point forward that they expect full “allegiance” from every citizen. This means that one’s obligations to the United States will always override obligations to another country. Fair enough, after all, because becoming a citizen does mean accepting certain rights and responsibilities. Rights: the right to vote, the right to apply for federal employment, and the right to run for elected office. Responsibilities: attending jury duty when called upon, paying federal taxes in addition to state and local taxes, and defending the country.
I have now been a citizen for more than a month. I no longer refer to Americans as “they” or “you guys,” rather, as “us” or “we”. Although my allegiance now must lie with the United States, I consider myself both Belgian and American. I am a mix of the two cultures, of the two countries.