Citizenship and Naturalization


Would You Like to Become A U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizenship is the final step in your immigration journey.

If you’re like most of our clients, becoming a U.S. citizen is a matter of personal pride.  Our clients want want to become citizens for many different reasons – but, once citizenship is granted, they all share the same sense of gratitude and accomplishment.

Different Paths to Citizenship

There are four different ways a person becomes a U.S. citizen:

First, anyone born in the U.S. is granted U.S. citizenship.

Second, if you were born in another country, and at least one parent was a U.S. citizen, you likely qualify as a U.S. citizen at birth. This process is known as “acquisition of citizenship”.

Third, you can earn U.S. citizenship through “the naturalization process”. This is a common situation for immigrants who have already earned lawful permanent resident status.

Fourth, if you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident and your parent naturalizes, you can also become a U.S. citizen through “derivation of citizenship”.

Persons Born In The United States

You probably think this category seems strange. “If a person is born in the United States,” you wonder, “aren’t they automatically U. S. citizens?”

Well, as a green card and citizenship lawyer, I know it’s not always that straight-forward – especially if the parents are not U. S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Jimmy came to our Avondale immigration and citizenship law office after the immigration judge ordered him to be deported. After going to a football game in Tolleson with some friends, he was picked up when the driver made a rushed right turn. Jimmy did not have any immigration documents. He was turned over to immigration officers.

Talking with Jimmy, I learned he was born in the United States. He was not born in a hospital. A midwife and a priest helped his mother give birth. She could not afford medical care. She left to her home country soon after. Jimmy was raised by his aunt and uncle in the U.S. They never registered his citizenship.

Jimmy, now 25, faced being sent to live in a country which he had never seen. At the immigration court hearing, the judge did not believe Jimmy’s citizenship claim. I advised Jimmy he could still fight back but it would not be simple.

He would need to get strong evidence from his family to prove he was a citizen. He would have to try everything possible to locate his mother. He had remained lifelong friends with the priest, a good starting point. He would need to file an immigration appeal to keep his hopes alive while he fought to prove his citizenship.

Most recently, those against immigration have started a drive against certain children born in the U.S. They argue that children, born to parents without legal documents, should not be entitled to citizenship by birth.

Acquisition Of Citizenship – Citizens Born In Other Countries

If you were born in another country, and at least one of your parents was a U. S. citizen, you may qualify as a U. S. citizen by birth.

This process is called “acquisition of citizenship.”

Julia’s mother, Lupe had fallen in love with Antonio shortly after high school. Lupe was born and raised in Maricopa County. Antonio lived in Mexico. Lupe continued to live and work in Phoenix but she would travel back and forth on the weekends to be with Antonio.

About two years later, Julia was born in a Mexican hospital. Lupe brought her to the United States. She never filed papers to show Julia’s citizenship. It was not an issue until after Julia graduated from high school. Suddenly, Julia needed to prove her U.S. citizenship.

Julia and her mother went to an immigration services specialist. The specialist filed papers on Julia’s behalf but they were rejected. Julia felt lost. She could not work legally in the U.S. She feared being deported someday.

When they came to our Phoenix immigration law office, they felt Julia’s case was over. They felt they had no options. We explained they would have to start over again.

To begin, we needed to obtain Julia’s complete immigration file from the government. We wanted to study what went wrong with her first set of citizenship papers. We wanted to make sure we could explain those mistakes to the government and prevent immigration fraud charges being filed against Julia and her mother.

Lawful Permanent Residents And Naturalization

Third, you can earn U. S. citizenship through “the naturalization process.”

This is the most common path for immigrants who have already earned lawful permanent resident status.

For over 20 years, Janice, who now lived in Goodyear, had been a lawful permanent resident. She wanted to become a U.S. citizen. She delayed for two reasons. First, she felt like she was betraying her home country, Guatemala. Second, she was very, very afraid of the naturalization process.

When she lived in Goodyear, Janice’s first efforts to become a permanent resident had failed. Even though she later earned a green card through the same immigration program, that experience scarred her deeply. She vowed to never go through the immigration process ever again.

But her dream to become a U.S. citizen never died. She was proud to live here. She was proud of the many benefits she gained by living in the U.S. legally. And she knew the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen were even greater. After three meetings with our office, she finally decided to take the next step.

Derivative Citizenship – Children Of Lawful Permanent Residents

Fourth, if you are a lawful permanent resident and your parent naturalizes, you can also become a U. S. citizen through a process known as “derivation of citizenship.”

Benefits Of Citizenship

Immigrants often ask why they should apply for citizenship.

Here’s why. If you are granted citizenship, you gain the right to:

  • Vote in U.S. elections for government officials
  • Help immigrate certain relatives to the United States, often more quickly
  • Apply for and obtain various government jobs and positions
  • Travel outside the U.S. with a U.S. passport wherever and whenever you want
  • Run for public office (except President and Vice-President)
  • Protection from deportation and removal
  • Seek government benefits, as well as various types of scholarships and grants
  • Live in another country without losing your right to return to the U.S.

Naturalization Requirements

Naturalization is the most common situation for immigrants who seek to become U.S. citizenship.

In general, to become a naturalized citizen:

  • You must be at least 18 years when you apply for citizenship
  • You must have been a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years (except if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you may apply two years sooner)
  • You must meet the requirements of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States
  • You must prove your good moral character
  • You must have to the ability to read, write, and speak English
  • You must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government
  • You must take a loyalty oath to the principles of the U.S. constitution

Naturalization Obstacles

The road to citizenship is not simple. 

If your dream is to become a U.S. citizen, a small mistake, made many years ago, can destroy your chances of success.  A criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, may become a major obstacle to acquiring citizenship. Even old allegations of certain types of crimes and past restraining orders might become major stumbling blocks.

Other types of potential problems include:

  • Voting in U.S. elections as a permanent resident
  • Avoiding payments of child support
  • Failing to pay income taxes or filing inaccurate tax returns
  • Not registering for the Selective Service
  • Staying outside the U.S. for a long period of time

Sometimes it is a huge mistake for immigrants to apply for citizenship.  If any of the above situations apply to you, you need to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before you file any papers.

Even if allegations made against you were false, or the charges were dropped, those records could lead to serious problems during the naturalization process. And your case might be sent to Immigration Court where the government will seek to deport you back to your home country.

We’ll Guide You Through The Entire Process

The Law Offices of Phoenix Immigration Attorney will guide you through every step of the citizenship process.  If you would like to know more about our immigration and naturalization services, contact us today.