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Green card holders afraid of deportation should become citizens

7/20/2011, 7:53 p.m.

Too often, sad stories involving deportation are heard among many legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for many years but never bothered to become citizens.

The reality is that, even without a conviction now, green card holders who commit the smallest of crimes can be rounded up and deported. It is why the need to take advantage of naturalization opportunities, if you qualify, is so much more important.

Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, obviously on the lookout for monies for its coffers, is taking this message in an aggressive way to the 7.9 million legal permanent residents in the United States who qualify for citizenship.

The USCIS last week launched its first ever paid ad campaign to urge green card holders to become naturalized citizens. A whopping $3.5 million will be spent on the multilingual advertising campaign over the next three years to encourage qualified immigrants to fully integrate into American society.

Nathan Stiefel, division chief of policy and programs for the Office of Citizenship at USCIS, explained, "You've got to create that sense of urgency, and until they've reached that sense of urgency, they'll just coast."

You qualify to apply for U.S. citizenship if you have been a permanent resident for at least five years, are 18 years or older and have continuous residence in the United States; you have lived for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the application and have lived within the state for at least three months prior to the date of filing the application; you are able to read, write and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government; and you are a person of good moral character.

You will also qualify sooner if you have been a permanent resident for three years or more and are currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen. Your child may qualify for naturalization if you are a U.S. citizen, if the child was born outside the U.S., if the child is currently residing outside the U.S. and if you have qualifying service in the armed forces for at least a year.

Once you are a U.S. citizen, you or your family member can be safe from deportation, bring family members to the United States, vote, obtain citizenship for children born abroad, travel with a U.S. passport, become eligible for federal jobs and even run for political office.

If you qualify, take the step today. The fee for filing your naturalization application is $580 plus a biometric fee of $85. For more information, visit www.uscis.gov or call the customer service at 1 (800) 375-5283 or 1 (800) 767-1833 for the hearing impaired.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.