Naturalization Research Paper

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Naturalization is the means by which a person of foreign birth  is made a full citizen. Naturalization is a process always complicated by race, gender and sexuality, religion, ethnicity, class, and the structural and political choices societies and their members make with regard to assimilation, acculturation, and boundary making.

Neither jus soli (citizenship by birth in a particular place) nor jus sanquinis (citizenship by descent) encompass purposeful choice-driven naturalization by an individual. The seemingly sharp demarcation between natural events and naturalization is actually fuzzy as official procedures for denoting citizenship can divest membership from those with a natal/descent claim, and invest it in those most recent arrivals deemed most worthy of citizenship status. Several historical and contemporary examples bear this out.

In the United States, the process of naturalization was explicitly set out in the 1790 Naturalization Act, and the caveats of gender, class, and race were made more or less explicit. For example, naturalization was limited to those defined as “free white person[s].” One could claim natural citizenship if one was born to U.S. citizens outside the geographic limits of the nation, “Provided, That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United  States” (Takaki 1993, p. 80).

In the United States, the caveats of race and ethnicity with regard to naturalization were complicated by various combinations of birth, descent, and residence. Members of indigenous groups were not covered by the Naturalization Acts, as they were not  white—however, “taking on the habits of white men” and leaving the reservation could suffice to  entitle  an  Indian  to  citizenship (Cohen  1971, p. 24). Although African Americans were quite purposefully naturalized in  practical terms  by  the  Fourteenth Amendment, they had up to that point been systematically denied both  jus soli and jus sanquinis, and this state of affairs would continue in both cultural understanding and law to varying degrees at least through the 1960s.

For non-white voluntary immigrants and their descendants, the lines between race, ethnicity, birth, residence, and naturalization have been murky and addressed through a variety of Supreme Court decisions on a piecemeal basis, most often on the impetus of these nascent citizens themselves, with widely varying outcomes (U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 1923; U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 1898; and In re Halladjian, 1909). The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act dismantled the United States’ older racial/ethnic/nationality-based quota system, but the preference for family members of current U.S. citizens preserved an extant preference for those groups already in the country  (“An  Act  to  Amend  the  Immigration  and Naturalization Act,” 1965). However, the migration patterns had by that time drastically shifted from Europe, and new migrant groups could then put their citizenship to work for their family ties.

Gendered understandings of naturalization have also been quite prominent. Until 1922 in the United States, only women who married noncitizens lost their citizenship, and the equalization of citizenship (vis-à-vis nationality, not specific areas of rights) was not completed until the 1930s (Freeman 1989). According to several scholarly works documenting naturalization procedures in the late twentieth century, such gendered naturalization practices continue to be widespread (Cook 1994; Beyani 1994; Al Nuaimi 2001).

In the United States, class was far more explicit in the discussion leading up to the implementation of the 1790 Act than in its final product; read, for example, the discussion of “those likely to become chargeable,” and “the common  class of vagrants [and]  paupers,” and  those who worried about the merchant class who would “remain so long as will enable them to acquire a fortune, and then they will leave” (Gales and Seaton’s  History of Debates in Congress 1790, pp. 1148, 1152, 1156). Class is of course implicated when workers are invited in to fill economic vacancies, but explicitly not invited to take part in the process of immigrant-to-citizen (Walzer 1983). This  is shown in early Chinese immigration to the United States, the Bracero Program for Mexican workers in the United States, and the guest worker system in several European nations (Walzer 1983).

Practices that  incorporate jus sanquinus far beyond one’s parents raise the question of just what counts as “natural” in terms of membership. In Ireland one may have preference in applying for citizenship if, for example, at least one grandparent was Irish-born (termed “Citizenship by Application”). Israel’s Law of Return extends the offer of naturalized citizenship to “every Jew who has expressed his desire to settle in Israel” (as expressed in its Law of Return and “Acquisition of Israeli Nationality”). Although others eligible to naturalization must wait from two to five years, for Jews under the Law of Return the naturalization is instantaneous upon arrival (“Acquisition”). In 1970 this law was extended to “include the child and the grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure the unity of families where intermarriage had  occurred.” These  sorts  of  practices highlight a perspective that understands all citizenship as a process of naturalization because the concept is a human one based upon stories of belonging. Denaturalization is the flip side of the process.


  1. Acquisition of Israeli Nationality. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  2. Al Nuaimi, W 2001. This Is the Price We Pay: A Study of Divorce in the United Arab Emirates from Women’s Perspectives. Master’s thesis, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo.
  3. Beyani, 1994. Toward a More Effective Guarantee of Women’s Rights in the African Human Rights System. In Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, ed. Rebecca J. Cook. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  4. Citizenship by Application—Citizenship by D 2005. Embassy of Ireland. html#three.
  5. Cohen, Felix 1971. Handbook of Federal Indian Law. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  6. Cook, Rebecca 1994. State Accountability under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms ofDiscrimination against Women. In Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, ed. Rebecca J. Cook. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  7. Freeman, Jo. The Legal Revolution. In Women: A Feminist Perspective, ed. Jo Freeman. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.
  8. Gales and Seaton’s History of Debates in Congress (microfilm edition). Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton.
  9. Law of Return 5710-1950. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  10. 1950_1959/Law%20of%20Return%205710-1950.
  11. Takaki, R 1993. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Boston: Little, Brown.
  12. S. Circuit Court of Massachusetts. 1909. In re Halladjian. 174 F. 834; 1909 U.S. App. Lexis 5266.
  13. S. Congress. 1790. Naturalization Act of 1790. 1 Stat 103-104.
  14. S. Congress. 1965. An Act to Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. Public Law 89-236. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  15. S. Supreme Court. 1856. Dred Scott v. Sandford. 60 U.S. 393. U.S. Supreme Court. 1896. Plessy v. Ferguson. 163 U.S. 537.
  16. S. Supreme Court. 1898. U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. 169 U.S. 649; 18 S. Ct. 456; 42 L. Ed. 890; 1898 U.S. Lexis 1515.
  17. S. Supreme Court. 1923. U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind. 261 U.S. 204; 43 S. Ct. 338; 67 L. Ed. 616; 1923 U.S. Lexis 2544.
  18. S. Supreme Court. 1971. Rogers v. Bellei. 401 U.S. 815; 91 S. Ct. 1060; 28 L. Ed. 2d 499; 1971 U.S. Lexis 61; 27 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 1006.
  19. Walzer, M 1983. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Basic Books.

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