Not everyone who is a permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen (i.e., naturalizes), nor is there any legal requirement that one must naturalize. However, permanent residents who naturalize gain important benefits, not the least of which (these days) is security from deportation (in most cases) and the ability to travel with a U.S. passport.
Under the law, to qualify for U.S. citizenship, permanent residents must (a) be at least 18 years of age, (b) reside continuously in the United States for five years (or three years if they are spouses of U.S. citizens), (c) be of good moral character, (d) demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand English (unless they are exempt from this requirement), (e) pass an examination on U.S. government and history (unless they are exempt from this requirement), and (f) be willing and able to take the naturalization Oath of Allegiance.
Seems simple, right? Sometimes it is. Other times, however, issues arise as to whether someone is a person of good moral character (because of something he or she might have done in his or her past), continuous residency in the United States, to name just a couple.
Is it worth it? I don’t often counsel clients to become a U.S. citizen. I think that’s a very personal decision, and there are many factors that go into that decision. However, these days, I personally think there’s much more at stake for permanent residents, whether they’re from one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries designated in President’s Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” or otherwise.
Few people expect to be arrested for a crime. But the risks for permanent residents who are arrested for a crime, even a seemingly minor one (like a misdemeanor under state law) are much, much higher. Permanent residence can be revoked and the individual can be deported. While there are many benefits associated with being a permanent resident, “permanent” does not necessarily mean “permanent.”
And if not for you, what about your children? We all know that kids make mistakes, and many times they’re really stupid ones. Immigrant kids are especially at risk if they make stupid mistakes. For example, with few exceptions, most convictions related to the use of illegal drugs can result in deportation of a permanent resident. So can a conviction related associated with sexual conduct by a young adult with a person who is a minor. Indeed, many immigrants who have lived in the United States with their families as permanent residents since they were very young children have been deported after being convicted of crimes they committed as youth or young adults. Becoming a U.S. citizen can protect you and your children from deportation.
We are living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it feels like the rules of engagement in the world of immigration are changing by the day. I would not normally counsel clients (or anyone for that matter) to become a U.S. citizen. However, in these uncertain times, I think it’s very much worth looking into.