Wall Street Journal: “What American Citizenship Makes Possible”

by Joseph McKeown


Immigration is a vital part of our nation because people come to the United States to not only make a better life for themselves and their family, but to become American citizens, according to General Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He says of his own immigration experience and his professional achievements:

Only in America could the son of two poor Jamaican immigrants become the first African-American, the youngest person and the first ROTC graduate from a public university to hold those positions, among many other firsts. My parents arrived—one at the Port of Philadelphia, the other at Ellis Island—in search of economic opportunity, but their goal was to become American citizens, because they knew what that made possible.

Saying that “America stands to benefit…as much as, if not more than, the immigrants themselves,” he goes onto refute common misconceptions about immigrants: neighborhoods with greater concentrations of foreign-born immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence than comparable nonimmigrant neighborhoods; foreign-born men between ages eighteen and thirty-nine are jailed at one-quarter the rate of native-born American men of the same age; immigrants today are learning English at the same rate or faster than earlier generations; first-generation immigrants are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer than native-born people, and experience fewer chronic health conditions, have lower infant-mortality and obesity rates, and have a longer life expectancy.

General Powell’s own parents met and married in the US while working in the garment industry, making $50 to $60 a week. General Powell was educated in the New York City public education system, from kindergarten through to Morris High School in the South Bronx and City College of New York—back when tuition was free—and experienced great success in his military career. He writes that while some countries including Japan and Russia worry that population decline threatens their economies, America benefits from immigrants’ energy, creativity, and drive. “We are all immigrants, wave after wave over several hundred years,” he writes. “And every wave makes us richer: in cultures, in language and food, in music and dance, in intellectual capacity. We should treasure this immigrant tradition, and we should reform our laws to guarantee it.”

For those interested in naturalization, US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has a helpful guide titled “10 Steps to Naturalization: Understanding the Process of Becoming a U.S. Citizen.” In this guide, USCIS explains who is eligible to apply for naturalization, steps to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, information about the process when the N-400 is pending, and, of course, what happens after approval, including taking the Oath of Allegiance and the naturalization ceremony.