To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.
Name one right only for United States citizens.
- vote in a federal election
- run for federal office
The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:
This is an interesting question that could trip many people up because of the phrasing. It is important to focus on the two answers here and supply one of them. It is all about understanding the difference between rights and freedoms and between the people of the United States and United States citizens.
We always hear about the inherent right for all to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But, this is quite vague, which is partially why the Bill of Rights was so essential. So, what are the rights of the citizens and the rights of the people?
Rights for United States Citizens Only
The two answers given are rights granted to those that hold or obtain United States citizenship. Others fall under this category that relates to employment and immigration law. Rights for a United States citizen include the following:
- The right to vote
- The right to run for elected office
- The right to apply for federal employment
- The right to obtain a U.S. passport
- The right not to be denied re-entry into this country.
The right to vote and run for office are listed above because they are the two aspirational rights. Many living in the United States may dream of being an elected official or even running for President of the United States. But, unless they are citizens, they can’t even vote for one.
The final two examples relate to immigration law. All citizens have the right to obtain and use a United States passport to travel out of the country. Furthermore, this gives them the right to cross back onto American soil at a checkpoint without being refused entry. Immigrants and those on visas do not have this same freedom of movement.
What About Puerto Rico’s Voters?
This is where there is a discrepancy in the rules over the rights of United States citizens. The people of Puerto Rico are granted birthright citizenship, giving them many of the same rights and responsibilities as those in the 50 states. However, they can’t vote in federal elections unless they move to one of those states with representation in the Electoral College. It is one of the examples where the American territories don’t always get a fair deal. For example, those born in American Samoa are not recognized as United States citizens.
Immigrants Earn Rights if They Become Citizens
These stand out compared to other rights and freedoms because they do not apply to anyone without this status. Those who don’t get these rights are residents who are not citizens, such as those on visas or immigrants who haven’t completed the naturalization process and become a naturalized US citizen. However, there are many rights they get just by being in the country.
Rights for All People of the United States
While some rights only apply to those with American citizen status, many more freedoms are offered to all people within the United States. The term people has changed in definition since the days of the framers of the Constitution. Back then, people didn’t mean everyone, and the unwritten assumption was that the freedoms of the Constitution applied to the white male colonists rather than any slaves, natives, immigrants, or even women. Over time, this changed with the Bill of Rights so that everyone would have the same rights as citizens and equal protection under the supreme law of the land.
There is sometimes the assumption that these rights don’t apply to immigrants as they haven’t yet “earned” them by taking the test or having a birthright. But, this isn’t the case at all. This was established as early as 1898 with the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. Here. The Supreme Court determined that the term “person,” as it was stated under the Fifth Amendment, did apply to immigrants. That case was followed by the Fong Yue Ting v. United States ruling that Chinese laborers were entitled to the same protections.
The Rights of All People in the Bill of Rights
The Bill Of Rights extends to everyone in the United States, whether they are citizens born and raised, naturalized, here on visas, or simply visiting. This is essential so that the laws in any situation can protect everyone. For example, a tourist or immigrant should have the same legal rights and basic freedoms while in the country as a citizen. This also applies across all states.
The Bill of Rights came about after critics of the United States Constitution felt that there were too many unexpressed freedoms. The additional document started with ten amendments that determined the rights of the people in more detail. These still apply today to all those in the country. They include the following.
The 1st Amendment: To protect the basic freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, religion, press, and peaceful protest. This means that immigrants cannot face persecution for being of different faith and that non-citizens can speak out on issues the same as those with a passport.
The 2nd Amendment: The right to bear arms. This is a clause that allows for gun ownership so that people can protect themselves and their property.
The 5th Amendment: As seen in the case of the Chinese laborers, this allows for fair treatment under the law. More specifically, it also talks about protecting against self-incrimination and double jeopardy.
The 6th Amendment: This takes legal matters further with the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury and the right to seek legal counsel. Again, this is important for all people of the United States and not just citizens.
The 9th Amendment: A true catch-all clause that reserves any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. This one allows for the potential for more unwritten civil rights and leads to important Supreme Court ruling over what is and isn’t unconstitutional.
Additional Rights for United States Citizens
In short, there are a few rights that you only get when you are born a U.S. citizen or become one. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone else lacks fundamental rights and freedoms. The Bill of Rights applies to all. However, you earn the added benefits of voting and getting a passport if you choose to become a citizen.