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naturalization: an overview

Naturalization refers to conferring U.S. citizenship after birth upon someone who lacks U.S. citizenship. To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must have reached the age of 18. Neither states nor Congress may abridge the right of an alien to become a naturalized U.S. citizen based upon the applicant's race, sex, or marital status. Applicants bear the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that they have met every eligibility requirement.

One element involves an English literacy test. The applicant must demonstrate some comprehension in understanding, speaking, reading, and writing the English language unless the applicant suffers from a disability that prevents compliance with this requirement. Additionally, the applicant must demonstrate some knowledge regarding basic United States history and some knowledge regarding the governmental system within the United States. The disability exemption applies to this civics requirement as well.

A second element requires the applicant to have previously lived lawfully within the United States for at least five years. During those five years, the alien must have remained physically present within the country for at least half of that time. Illegal immigrants cannot later become naturalized U.S. citizens.

Third, the applicant must demonstrate good moral character. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services evaluates moral character within the context of a given community, comparing the applicant's record to the record of the average citizen residing therein.

Fourth, applicants must show a basic acceptance for the United States' form of government, which is typically referred to as "attachment" to the Constitution. An attachment to the Constitution means that the applicant will not try to effect political change through violence or infringe upon the rights and liberties of other U.S. citizens. The Bureau may disqualify applicants with histories that affiliate them with the Communist Party and other authoritarian regimes.

Fifth, naturalization requires applicants to have a favorable disposition toward the United States.

Courts generally apply a rebuttable presumption that applicants have good moral character, an attachment for the Constitution, and a favorable disposition toward the United States. While mental incompetency during the statutory period does not per se exclude an applicant, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may use the mental health history as evidence against the legal presumption that the applicant has good moral character, attachment to the principles of the United States Constitution, and a favorable disposition toward the United States.

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