Requirements for Citizenship
To become a U.S. citizen, several requirements must be met. All applicants must be at least 18 years of age (or be their dependents) and legally reside in the United States for at least five years (except for immediate family members of U.S. citizens, for whom the requirement is three years). In addition, the law requires an understanding of English (speaking, reading and writing) and the history, principles, and form of government of the United States, good moral character, attachment to the principles of the Constitution, and favorable disposition toward the United States. Ineligibility may be due to failure to meet any of the above requirements of as a result of opposition to the U.S. Government or U.S. law, favoring totalitarian forms of government, desertion from or refusal to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States or certain serious criminal offenses.
Section 335 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that "Before a person may be naturalized, an employee of the [Immigration] Service...shall conduct a personal investigation of the person applying for naturalization in the vicinity or vicinities in which such person has maintained his actual place of abode and in the vicinity or vicinities in which such person has been employed or has engaged in business or work for at least five years immediatiely preceding the filing of his application for naturalization."
The Current Surge in Naturalization
First, there were many immigrants eligible to apply who had never gotten around to doing so. Second, the number had recently been growing rapidly due to much higher numbers of new immigrants. Third, welfare reform legislation removed some benefits for resident aliens that remained available to U.S. citizens, and finally, a growing public concern about illegal aliens may have led legal aliens to protect themselves against any backlash by becoming citizens.
The surge in naturalizations caused waiting periods to lengthen unacceptably--far longer than the standard of six months; in major immigrant settlement cities the wait became over two years. The INS launched a major effort to overcome the backlog problem, and has largely succeeded in bringing waiting periods back to around six months.
The two extremes of the debate appear to be 1) Conservatives who state the obvious that "all illegal aliens are breaking the law," but then go further to portray all illiegal aliens as dangerous criminals seeking criminal lives; and 2) Liberals who see this as a human rights and labor issue and want amnesty and unionization of all workers. No wonder we cannot make progress. Search FAIR for Conservative perspective and Reform Immigration for America for Liberal perspective.
Democratic outline for reform
Under the proposal, illegal immigrants currently in the United States would be eligible for legal status in eight years, as long as they learned English, had not committed a crime and paid their taxes. The federal government would increase funding for border security and require all American workers get a new version of their Social Security card that would include a biometric identifier to protect against the creation of counterfeits.
What issues need to be addressed in the process to become a citizen?1. We need to reform the temporary work visa system. The U.S. system must issue legal temporary work visas to all seeking entry to the country. They need to be identified, screened, documented. They need to pay fees and taxes once employment is gained. If they wish to remit earnings to their home country, a transparent system should be created to account for those money flows (including fee and tax collection). This should be the starting point of a 4-8 year path to naturalization.
2. Allocate sufficient visas to close unlawful migration channels. The present system inadvertantly SPONSORS criminal activity by the creation of a system to smuggle people into the US. This shadow process is run by organized crime, and is based upon the process to move illegal drugs. The extreme violence in recent years is an outcome of this bi-prodduct of our broken system. Second, one of the great failures of our current system is that the level of legal immigration is set arbitrarily by Congress—as a product of political compromise. The allocation of employment visas to workers should be depoliticized and placed in the hands of an independent commission that can assess labor shortages and determine the number and characteristics of foreign workers to be admitted, with Congress’s approval.
3. Enhance our nation’s security and safety. A sensible enforcement strategy will keep America safe, protect due process and human rights, make the most effective use of the tools and policies already available in a fair and reasonable manner, and be fiscally responsible. Such a strategy would prioritize enforcement actions to target genuine threats, violent individuals, unscrupulous employers; traffickers and drug smugglers, and those that might exploit the immigration system to do the country harm.
4. Establish a strategic border enforcement policy that reflects American values. A border strategy that prioritizes the safety and security of border communities and consults with these communities in the process is the best way to ensure that our border policies protect our national security, while balancing enforcement with economic development and human and civil rights.