A brief overview of the history of naturalization in America

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A brief overview of the history of naturalization in AmericaRace and NaturalizationAmerica is known as the melting pot of the world, and our tolerance for allowing people of every nation and background to become citizens is part of our culture and heritage. However, as open as our immigration policies have been over time, the process of naturalization was not race neutral and until 1952, as only white persons could be naturalized as citizens before then.The Fourteenth Amendment provides the broad definitions of citizenship including naturalization, which is the defined legal process through which a foreign citizen can become a U.S. citizen. The current process is designed so that new citizens are not simply passed through legal processes, but also learn important aspects of what it means to be an American. Prior to the 14th Amendment, states had previously set their own rules for citizenship. With the 14th Amendment, all people born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction are citizens.ResidencyThe Naturalization Act of 1795 set five years as the residency requirement for naturalization. In 1798, the residency requirement was extended to fourteen years, largely to target Irish and French immigrants. This was repealed in 1802 and the five year requirement was reinstated.VeteransIn 1862, honorably discharged Army veterans of any war could petition for naturalization after on one year of residency. This was extended to the Navy and Marine Corps in 1894 after service of five years. Laws continued to give preferential treatments to veterans and in 1918 and 1919 over 192,000 were naturalized under a 1918 law. Preferential treatment for veterans was continued under laws enacted from 1919 to 1952. AsiansDespite the passage of the 14th Amendment, native born Asians were denied citizenship until 1898 when the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment applied to Asians as well as others. Discrimination against Asians continued. In 1882, Chinese workers were banned and barred from naturalization. In 1917, that restriction was extended to almost all Asians. The Cable Act of 1922 ruled that women marrying aliens who were ineligible for naturalization would lose their citizenship. All Asians were so ineligible. The Immigration Act of 1924 barred entry to all who were ineligible for naturalization.Filipinos were the only Asians eligible for entry. They had been classified as US nationals after the Spanish American War but were reclassified as aliens in 1934 with an immigration quota of 50 per year. Otherwise all aspects of the 1924 immigration law applied to them. The quota did not apply to Filipinos in the US Navy.Restrictions LiftedDuring and after World War II, racial discrimination in immigration was eliminated except for the continuance of some quotas. In 1965, all persons were given equal access to migrate to the United States.Today, illegal immigration has become a significant political issue and we can look forward to changing legislation over the next few years.

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