Nationality law is the body of law that governs how a person gains or loses citizenship. Also called citizenship law, nationality law is the law of how a person becomes a citizen of a country or forfeits the citizenship of a country. The area of law also involves the rights and obligations of a citizen.
Nationality law is distinct from immigration law
Even though immigration law has a lot of overlap with nationality law, they’re not quite the same things. Immigration law controls who can come into a country and what documentation they need to enter the United States. Nationality law specifically governs who can become a citizen and under what circumstances.
Congressional authority to make nationality laws
The United States Constitution grants Congress the power to create nationality laws. Article one, section eight of the U.S. Constitution says that Congress has the authority to determine standards and terms for naturalization of citizens. In turn, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. The law lists the legal requirements for acquiring and losing citizenship in the United States.
Rights of citizens
Citizenship in the United States comes with significant rights. All citizens have the full protection of the United States Constitution. They have the right to participate in government by voting and running for elected office, but some states limit the rights of felons to vote. Citizens have the right to help from U.S. embassies and consulates when traveling abroad. They may live in U.S. states and territories without meeting additional requirements.
Non-citizens do not have the same rights as citizens
Even though non-citizens present within the borders of the United States have many of the same protections as non-citizens, non-citizens do not have all of the same rights that citizens enjoy. For example, in the Matthews v. Diaz case in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Congress’ authority to create different rules for non-citizens. In the Matthews case, lawmakers denied eligibility for Medicare part B benefits for individuals who are not permanent residents with five years of residency in the United States. The Court said that while non-citizens have some due process rights and other rights under the U.S. Constitution, their rights do not always have to be equal to the rights of citizens.
Citizens who aren’t natural born can’t be President
Only natural-born citizens can become President of the United States. Citizens who are not natural born are ineligible to run for President or run for Vice President. Citizens who are not natural born may be governor of a state. They may also serve in high-level cabinet positions. Even though they may serve in high positions in U.S. government, they are skipped in the line of succession for President.
Responsibilities of citizens
Just as citizens have rights, they also have responsibilities. In the United States, citizens must serve on a jury if they’re selected. Citizens must pay taxes. They must have a passport for travel. Male citizens must register for the Selective Service System when they reach the age of 18.
Naturalization rules may change over time
Congress creates rules for who may become a citizen and how they become a citizen. The U.S. President also has some authority to set immigration policies and control the policy of the Department of Homeland Security. Parties seeking to challenge immigration laws and decisions may bring their case to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review and also to the U.S. federal courts.
How to become a U.S. citizen
The rules for becoming a U.S. citizen have changed over the years. In fact, it wasn’t until the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 that the United States granted citizenship by virtue of birth in the United States. Only a minority of countries offer birthright citizenship. Other ways to achieve citizenship at birth depend on the citizenship, residency and marital status of the parents.
Children may acquire U.S. citizen at birth even if they aren’t born in the United States. Both parents must be U.S. citizens, and the parents must be married. One parent must have lived in the United States before the child’s birth. The parents must register the child’s birth for the child to receive citizenship.
If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, the child may still receive citizenship if the parent who is a citizen lives in the United States for at least five years. At least two of those five years must have occurred after the citizen parent is 14 years old. The parents must be married.
Even when parents are unmarried, there’s still a path for a child to be a U.S. citizen. That path requires at least one parent to have been physically present in the United States for at least one year in the five years before the child’s birth. While old laws allowed a child to gain citizenship in this way only through their mother, there are now avenues to claim citizenship through a father.
Individuals born into certain U.S. territories are not automatically citizens. Residents in those territories are considered U.S. nationals, but they are not officially citizens. By contrast, the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act offers citizenship to all Native Americans. Even though Native Americans may have U.S. citizenship, Native American tribes still have a significant amount of autonomy and exclusive jurisdiction over their affairs within the United States.
The structure of immigration courts in the United States
The U.S. Department of Justice generally hears nationality cases through its Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). The Department of Homeland Security may initiate proceedings by filing a form that requires a person to appear to answer to allegations. The allegations may state that the person is inadmissible to the United States or otherwise deportable. The EOIR determines if the person should be removed from the United States or allowed to stay.
There are approximately 239 immigration judges that sit in 59 separate courts in the United States. An aggrieved party may appeal a decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The EOIR may designate certain cases to act as precedence for judges deciding future cases.
Employer-related nationality violations
Separately, the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) hears cases that relate to employer violations. If an employer may have illegally hired unauthorized workers or otherwise committed fraud, their case may go before OCAHO. The Department of Homeland Security serves as the prosecutor in cases before OCAHO.
Expedited removal proceedings
In addition to these formal proceedings, immigration officials may also use an expedited processto remove non-citizens who arrive at the U.S. border without a valid claim of citizenship or residency. Officials may exercise their authority when an individual appears at the border or if they’re apprehended near the border. Critics say summary proceedings obstruct valid asylum claims and prevent claimants from accessing documents or the help of counsel. Proponents say that summary proceedings allow officials to act expediently when there is little question of how the law applies in the case.
Who practices immigration law?
Individuals wishing to become citizens of the United States rely on nationality lawyers to help them through the process. Nationality lawyers advise clients about what to do in order to become U.S. citizens. They help them file paperwork and prepare for hearings.
If there is a hearing on an application for citizenship, a nationality lawyer may represent the individual at the hearing. They may also help an applicant for citizenship address an accusation of an immigration violation. Nationality lawyers assist their clients at all stages in cases regarding U.S. citizenship. Lawyers may appear in immigration courts or in federal courts on behalf of their clients.
Nationality attorneys work throughout the United States. They often focus exclusively on nationality law, and they may combine their practice with immigration law. Nationality attorneys are often fluent in multiple languages. They also work on behalf of the public with the Department of Homeland Security.
Why Become a Nationality Lawyer?
Nationality law involves helping people. Many nationality attorneys find great personal satisfaction in helping others become U.S. citizens. Nationality attorneys may also enjoy the challenge of a practice that is often a combination of both transactional law and litigation. Nationality lawyers may work for the government on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, or they may work as an immigration law judge. Many nationality lawyers also work in private practice throughout the United States.
Practicing nationality law
Attorneys who practice nationality law have a profound impact on the lives of their clients and their clients’ families. They prepare critically important documents, and they represent their clients in hearings and appeals. Whether they represent the U.S. government or private clients, nationality lawyers perform the critically important work of executing nationality laws in the United States.