What does it mean to be "Naturalized"?

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to make naturalization laws for the United States. No state can give citizenship to aliens.

A person can become a naturalized citizen of the United States individually or as part of a group. Generally any person who has come into the United States as an immigrant may become a naturalized citizen. To do so, a person must be over 18 years old and must have lived in the United States for five years, without leaving for more than a total of 30 months (and not more than twelve consecutive months) throughout that five-year period.

People who wish to become U.S. citizens must file a petition for naturalization and take an examination that shows that they can read, speak, and write simple English and have a fair knowledge of American history, government, and the Constitution. They must be able to prove that they are of good, moral character. Two American citizens whom they know well must verify that the applicant will be a good citizen and loyal to the United States.

Once an applicant has passed the requirements and examination, he or she may become a U.S. citizen by taking an oath of allegiance. Group naturalization ceremonies often take place on September 17--Citizenship Day. Naturalized citizens are entitled to all of the rights granted to natural-born citizens, except they may not become president or vice president of the United States.

Congress has granted honorary citizenship, an extremely high honor, to only two foreigners. Sir Winston Churchill, who was prime minister of the United Kingdom, was the first to receive this honor in 1963. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II, received the honor in 1981.

Ward Whipple
Editor, Civic Leader

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