Other View: Welcome to the largest class of new citizens in 15 years

New U.S. citizens listen as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony inside the Robert N.C. Nix Federal Courthouse on Oct. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia.
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Naturalization ceremonies are inherently patriotic. People enter the courtroom, convention center or stadium as non-citizens and leave with a certificate of naturalization declaring them citizens of the United States of America. Many bring their entire families to share with them the honor of becoming American.

In the 2022 fiscal year, more than 970,000 green card holders became U.S. citizens, the highest number recorded since 2008. During a time when “immigrant” is often shorthand for “undocumented migrant,” it is important to remember and celebrate the people who have gone through the lengthy process legally.

After at least five years of permanent and lawful residence in the United States, an immigrant is eligible to apply for citizenship. Even though extensive background checks are required for applying for residency in the first place, additional examinations are required for naturalization. As are two tests, one on English proficiency and one on civics.

Not every legal resident does this. The citizenship process is invasive and expensive, with more than $700 in fees, not to mention the cost, usually in the thousands, of hiring lawyer to navigate the complexity of the U.S. immigration system. Having a green card allows most people to live just fine — but taking the extra step to be a full citizen grants them important benefits: protection from deportation, a U.S. passport and the right to vote.

The naturalized citizen voting block is only growing. Pew estimates that 38% of eligible residents became citizens in 1995, and that number doubled to two-thirds in 2019. For many residents, anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as the uncertainty of immigration policy across presidential administrations, motivated them to secure U.S. citizenship.


There are 9 million legal residents in the U.S. who are eligible to become citizens, but most simply aren’t applying. Some cite deterrents such as the number of applications lingering in bureaucratic limbo; at least 670,000 applications remain pending according to recent State Department numbers.

On average, the process of becoming a citizen can take a year or two. Intense study, as well as great expense and hard work, culminates in a naturalization ceremony.

New citizens turn in their previous paperwork, recite an oath pledging their allegiance to the United States and receive a certificate of naturalization worth its weight in gold and generations of familial sacrifice. Sometimes people are handed small flags by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Many new citizens shed tears of joy. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching a country embrace a person — and nothing more patriotic than the feeling in that person’s chest.

Most immigrants want to work legally; they want to raise their families here and contribute to the civic life of the United States. To everyone who went through the process this year, and for everyone about to go through it, we offer a grateful “welcome.”

©2023 PG Publishing Co.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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