Pathway to Citizenship
LexInter | November 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

What to Know About a Pathway to Citizenship

When someone wants to become a citizen of the United States, they go through a process called naturalization. Green card holders who have been for at least five years as a permanent resident may be able to apply. In some cases, if you’ve been in the U.S. for just three years, you can apply if you’re married to a U.S. citizen and living with them.

Most permanent residents, with a few exceptions, do have to apply for naturalization and to do that, the applicant has to show basic English proficiency and an understanding of civics in America.

There’s no current law or provision allowing for automatic citizenship.

One of the most heated issues politically in the United States right now is immigration. There has been an influx in the number of undocumented people coming into the country, along the southern border.

Politicians on both sides use immigration as a talking point, and in that conversation, you’ll often hear the phrase “pathway to citizenship.”

Some argue that people already living within the U.S. should be offered a pathway to citizenship, even though they came illegally. Others don’t favor that approach.

Regardless of which side someone is on, there is often discussion about immigration reform, and in many instances, that larger conversation focuses on a pathway to citizenship.

The following are some of the things to know about what this actually means and the implications.

Undocumented People In America

people standing

There are more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. Some are so-called Dreamers, and others are Temporary Protected Status holders.

The number of undocumented crossings at the border of the southwestern part of the country topped 2.76 million for fiscal year 2022. This breaks the previous yearly record by more than a million, according to data from Customs and Border Protection.

For the 12-month period that ended in September, CBP stopped migrants more than 2,766,582 times. In fiscal year 2021, that number was 1.72 million, which was the previous high.

According to CBP, the numbers were driven by increases in Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.

There were COVID restrictions that led officials to return border crossers to Mexico, and that meant that there are a lot of multiple border crossing attempts, so the number of attempted crossings and apprehensions may overstate the actual number of individuals, based on a state from CBP.

Most immigrants in the U.S. are here legally—an estimated 77%. The rest, according to Pew Research Center, are unauthorized.

Not all lawful permanent residents actually opt to pursue citizenship, but those who do have to meet certain requirements.

Almost half of all immigrants live in three states—California, Texas, and Florida.

Around 19% of undocumented people have lived in the United States for 25 years or more, and there are 6.7 million people who are undocumented but have been living in the U.S. for a minimum of ten years.

An estimated two million Dreamers live in the U.S., who are undocumented people who came to America as children and are in school or have graduated and hold at least the equivalent of a high school diploma.

A Pathway For Undocumented Individuals

Visa application

Some advocacy groups are calling on Congress to put in place legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship. These advocates say doing so would keep families together and allow them to become productive parts of the economy.

There are some administrative programs, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of America or DAPA. These are temporary programs providing limited rights, so they aren’t equal to becoming a citizen.

Advocates say that a pathway to citizenship will help people engage in their civic duties like voting and would end the so-called shadow economy. If immigrants would legally work in the U.S., then they’d be increasing how much is contributed to Social Security and benefit programs.

Polling typically shows the public in the U.S. does support a pathway to citizenship for people already living in the U.S.

In one poll, 79% of respondents said they support creating a citizenship pathway for undocumented people living in America for ten years or more. The same percentage supports citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have children with citizenship in the U.S. Seventy-one percent support citizenship for asylum seekers.

Advocates say that if undocumented immigrant becomes a citizen, they are more likely to live two times or more above the poverty level, and the earnings of these people, were they given a pathway to citizenship, would contribute nearly $150 billion to the economy after taxes.

Some who are calling for a pathway to citizenship support multiple paths. For example, some people might qualify because they’re essential workers, while others could qualify based on how long they’ve lived in the U.S. or because they came as a child.

One of the arguments against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is that it could encourage more illegal immigration into the country at a time when resources at the border are severely overwhelmed.

Recent Legislation


In 2021, the Biden administration introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act that would have included a higher limit annually for green cards and permanent residence for people waiting with an approved immigrant petition, and it would have eliminated the per-country limit. The legislation didn’t move in Congress.

There was also the American COMPETES (CHIPS) Act. That was more legislation that was centered on employment-based immigration.

Essentially all recent legislation has focused primarily on employment-based immigration.

Regardless of which political side someone might be on, the country realizes that something has to change with immigration. It’s difficult to become a citizen, and that leads people to come illegally to the United States. There are also scenarios where people are brought to the country as a child but aren’t citizens, yet returning to their country of origin would be incredibly challenging for them.

Everyone has opinions on a pathway to citizenship, with proponents saying that undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy and society and opponents arguing America can’t take on so many immigrants.

Immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship aren’t likely to make much progress legislatively, with Democrats and Republicans so deeply divided on everything.

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