Six Things You Should Know About United States Citizenship
Being a United States citizen is not the same as being a Permanent Resident, visa holder, etc. Citizenship is special and confers unique rights and responsibilities. There are only two paths to citizenship, birth and naturalization.
Citizenship by birth is much more complicated than you think. If you were born in the United States or one of its territories, you are a United States citizen, period - unless your parents were foreign diplomats – then you are not a US citizen even if you were born here. People born in other countries may also be US citizens by birth if one or both of their parents were US citizens at the time of their birth. The rules for people born abroad are very complicated and have changed several times in the last 100 years – you need an immigration lawyer to figure this one out.
Naturalization is the process by which a non-citizen becomes a citizen. It isn’t easy to naturalize. You have to be: 18 year or older, a Permanent Resident for 3-5 years, physically present in the US for a certain time, a “person of good moral character," and proficient in English. You also have to pass a test on US history and government, then swear allegiance to the US in an oath ceremony. It’s a lot of work, and it really makes you respect those who do it.
A US citizen can never be deported – except by mistake – and that happens. Because citizenship by birth is so complicated, sometimes people do not know, or cannot prove that they are US citizens. Some even think they are “illegal aliens" because they entered the US without permission – except that, as US citizens, they never needed permission in the first place. By the time the immigration court figures it all out, sometimes these people have already been deported. Of course, they are allowed to come back to the US and get a Certificate of Citizenship, but no apology.
There are 4 ways to show that you are a citizen: US birth certificate, US passport, Certificate of Naturalization (awarded when people become citizens through naturalization) and Certificate of Citizenship (usually issued to US citizens born abroad).
It is your obligation to prove that you are a citizen. Believe it or not, the US government doesn’t have a huge database that they can query with your name and Social Security number to figure out if you are a US citizen.