After years of living in the United States as a lawful permanent resident, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in September 2015.
As an immigration attorney, I have helped many foreign nationals attain U.S. citizenship for more than a decade. I found my firsthand experience of becoming a U.S. citizen to be quite momentous.
My naturalization oath ceremony was held at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Along with more than 400 other persons from all around the world, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America – pledging to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and renouncing allegiance to my former country (Jamaica).
The Honorable Tony N. Leung (U.S. District Magistrate Judge) administered the oath, spoke about immigrating from Hong Kong to the U.S. with his family when he was a child, and encouraged us to treasure our cultural past while embracing our future as U.S. citizens.
We received our certificates of naturalization at the end of the ceremony. I happily display mine in the photos of me with my husband and daughter, and with Judge Leung.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a special milestone for immigrants and is the pinnacle of an immigrant’s long journey. Naturalization is not required. But if you choose to complete the process, you receive unique benefits, such as the ability to:
- file immigrant petitions for more family members (including parents, siblings and married children)
- gain automatic citizenship for your lawful permanent resident children under age 18
- receive full protection from deportation
- obtain a U.S. passport
- travel more easily to foreign countries
- travel outside the U.S. for as long as you want with no barriers to re-entry
- obtain federal jobs and government benefits that are available only to U.S. citizens
- run for public office
- vote in federal elections
The right to vote is perhaps the most well-known and appreciated benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen. It often drives the decision of many immigrants, including me, to apply for citizenship.
Before my naturalization oath ceremony began, members of the League of Women Voters presented on the importance of voter registration and voting, and gave instructions on filling out the registration form, which were part of our ceremony packet. They stood at the exits to collect our voter registration forms at the end of the ceremony – after we completed the oath, received our naturalization certificates, and officially became U.S. citizens.
No doubt, immigration is a hot topic among the 2016 presidential candidates and a divisive issue in the United States. This ever-growing, complex problem has no easy fix. A candidate’s position on immigration and plans for immigration reform will likely be a deciding factor for most New Americans who choose to vote.