What does it mean to be a citizen? What are the rights and responsibilities of a citizen? How does one not born in a particular country become a citizen of that country? Different nations obviously have different answers to these vital questions, and every citizen should know how his country answers these questions of citizenship. In America, the Constitution and its amendments spell out what citizenship means.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This amendment guarantees the three major rights of a citizen: life, liberty and property. It is also the case, however, that one can be born in another country and still be a citizen of the U.S., provided the child's parents are both American citizens.
Rights and Responsibilities
The United States confers certain rights on its citizens. These rights include voting in federal elections, serving on juries, bringing family members into the country, gaining citizenship for children if born abroad, the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, the ability to run for federal office and being eligible for any federal grants and scholarships. Beyond such rights, U.S. citizens are also expected to fulfill certain responsibilities such as paying taxes, registering for the draft and following all the laws of the land.
Myths and Misunderstandings
It is not the case that a couple who is in the U.S. illegally can have a baby here and gain citizenship because the baby was born on American soil. While the baby would have citizenship by birthright, its parents would not. Another common misconception is that by marrying a U.S. citizen one can automatically become citizen. Such is not the case, as there is a long process involved in naturalization. A third myth is that one must be able to speak and understand English. Not speaking English can make it difficult to pass the test for the naturalization process, but one can become a permanent resident without an understanding of the language.
The test one must take when applying for citizenship via the naturalization process is not easy. Questions, including the following, could stump many life-long residents of the U.S.: How many times can a senator be re-elected? What were the original 13 colonies? Who wrote the majority of the Constitution and what is its introduction called? Who has the power to declare war in the U.S.? Who were our enemies during World War II?