A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Contact: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/

Monday, November 23, 2009

True Value of American Citizenship

(written in July 2009)

The 4th of July reminded us of the Statute of Liberty, which was presented by the people of France to the U.S.A. in 1886 to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The statute has been standing tall on Liberty Island in New York Harbor for more than a century without much change. It has welcomed countless visitors and immigrants traveling to the U.S. by ship or air. It is also the recognized symbol of freedom and democracy displayed in books, posters, stamps, artwork and even business logos. Every year, as newcomers arrive in the U.S. to pursue a new life, many of their predecessors swear to become American citizens.

While the Statute of Liberty has not changed much over the years, the nature of American citizenship has acquired a new significance. American citizenship still confers many benefits to its holders, allowing them to apply for a U.S. passport, to apply for government jobs, to vote in elections, and to travel internationally without limitation. Speaking more pragmatically, American citizenship also opens the door to more business opportunities for entrepreneurs as U.S. citizenship is required for many government contracts. Don’t forget the shorter lines at the airport when travelers are returning from overseas countries.

True, all these are great benefits of holding a U.S. passport. But there are also other meanings to acquiring American citizenship. For one thing, to be American carries a certain sense of pride that Americans are not shy to express. Although it may not be safe to use an American passport in certain parts of the world, very few Americans would hide their identity just to avoid dangers. Youngsters from all over the world idolize our movie stars, crave for McDonald's French fries, and hack into our computer systems just to take a glimpse of our IT systems. My clients always tell me about how they are treated more politely as American citizens when they return to their countries of origin to do business. Their applications are also processed more efficiently.

It has been said that America is a big "melting pot" - signifying the diversity of people from different backgrounds living together. Nobody would doubt the validity of this phrase by just visiting one of the many naturalization oath ceremonies in the U.S. Typically you see applicants of different ages and nationalities seated together for one common goal - to be an American. Never mind they may have come different continents or countries that had fought each other before. Never mind they may have come from different neighborhoods, and worship at different churches and temples. Naturalization binds them together forever (almost) at the moment when they swear to be loyal to the American soil.

Statistics also support what we see. According to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics published by the Department of Homeland Security, in 2008 there were 1,046,539 persons who become naturalized American citizens. They came from all continents of the world and more than 200 countries, from China to Taiwan, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Austrialia to Turkey. The top countries of origin include Mexico (231,815), India (65,971), Philippines (58,792), China (40,017), Cuba (39,871), Vietnam (39,584) and El Salvador (35,796). Only five persons from U.S. Virgin Islands became naturalized in 2008. Such great diversity is not repeated any where in the world. The amazing thing is that people with such different backgrounds can live and work together in peace and harmony for the most part. One of the reasons for our success is the almost certain way for willing legal residents to become U.S. citizens through naturalization after five years of residence, attracting people especially those talented to come here for a better future. Some countries such as Germany also tried to attract high-tech workers to work there by offering them green cards about ten years ago. However, the German plan failed to attract talent to apply because German citizenship was not offered regardless of how long one has been a legal resident. Without citizenship, the sense of belonging is just not there.

Even when the U.S. is struggling with its economy and health care issues, countless immigrants still continue to come here to pursue their American dream. Perhaps being an American is not only about money and success. Perhaps the Statute of Liberty stands for more than freedom and democracy. Perhaps the true value of American citizenship can only be measured by what share together and our pride.

(Paul Szeto, an immigration lawyer and former INS attorney, regularly writes on immigration issues. His contact info: 732-632-9888, www.szetolaw.com)

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