ESSAY: Becoming a United States citizen

Penn Yan Action Coalition
Special to The Chronicle-Express

Welcome back to the Penn Yan Action Coalition’s second installment on citizenship. This week, we’ll explore what it takes to become a citizen in greater detail.

Most of us don’t even think about the process of becoming a citizen if we were born in this country. But what if you weren’t born here. How would you become a citizen? Do you know that becoming a citizen is a very complicated process with many components?

The first step in the process is to determine if you’re eligible to become a citizen. To be eligible, you must be at least 18 years old and a permanent resident in good standing in the United State for a minimum of five years. The next step is to complete the 20 page Form N-400: Application for Naturalization (www.uscis.gov). Supporting documents must be attached, along with the $725 fee ($85 for fingerprinting and $640 for the application). You must memorize the information given because you will be required to remember all dates and times accurately when you meet with your interviewer. You will not be allowed to refer to Form N-400 or any notes.

Once the application is completed, you submit it to the correct department. You will then be finger printed and a comprehensive background check will be completed by USCIS. Now, you are ready for your interview. If you live in our area, you will travel to the USCIS Field Office in Syracuse for biometrics or fingerprinting. You then go to Buffalo for your interview. The people who work for Citizenship and Naturalization Services are generally very welcoming. No interviewer wants to see someone fail but they do expect the applicant to be prepared and answer all questions with confidence.

In addition to the listening and speaking portion of the test, the applicant is tested on reading and writing skills; being asked to read a question and then write a dictated response. If you pass all portions of the test, the interviewer will move on to the N-400 application. He or she will ask you to answer questions from the information you supplied. The answers you give must agree with the information you put on your form. If you are being interviewed in Buffalo, you will be told if you passed your interview and receive a date for your Oath Ceremony. You have probably seen pictures in this paper of new citizens taking their Oath of Allegiance administered by a judge.

Congratulations! You are now a citizen of the United States. Currently, this process takes from nine to 12 months.

As you can see, becoming a citizen of the United States is quite a milestone. It isn’t an easy process nor an inexpensive one. Time has to be taken from jobs to meet appointments. While you, the reader, are a native speaker of English, remember that many applicants are speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a language that is not their first language. Becoming a citizen is an achievement and cause for celebration for the new citizen and his or her entire family and our community.


Okay, let’s see how you do. Here are six more of the 128 civics and government questions you must know the answers to if you wish to become a citizen of the United States of America. (Answers on page ___.)

1) The U.S. Constitution starts with the words, “We, the people.” What does “We, the people” mean?

2) How many amendments does the U. S. Constitution have?

3) Why do U.S. representatives serve shorter terms than U. S. senators?

4) Name two promises that new citizens make in the Oath of Allegiance.

5) The nation’s first motto was “E Pluribus Unum.” What does it mean?

6) What is Veteran’s Day?


Check future editions of the newspaper for more information about the immigration system and additional sets of citizenship test questions from the PYAC. If you’d like a chance to win two free copies of our next Community Read book (title to be announced), send an email to pyactioncoalition@gmail.com and you will be entered into a drawing for the books later in the spring. Please send us your questions and comments about our work.

The Penn Yan Action Coalition:

Alexander Andrasik

Cindy Gorham-Crevelling

Scarlett Emerson

Claudia Guthrie

Debbie Koop

Anne Meyer-Wilber

Mickey & Ed Schultz

Nancy Richardson

Peggy Soule

[Please publish on a separate page]

Becoming a U.S. Citizen Answers (from page ___):

Even though, there might be other correct answers, the applicant must use the following as his or her answer.

1) Self-government/ popular sovereignty/consent of the governed/people should govern themselves/social contract

2) 27

3) to more closely follow public opinion

4) give up loyalty to other countries/defend the Constitution/obey the laws of the United States/serve in the military if needed/serve the nation/be loyal to the United States

5) Out of many, one/We all become one.

6) a day to honor people in the U.S. military/a holiday to honor people who have served in the U.S. military