The following information is courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Regional National Archives and Records Administration. Phone: (303)236-0817.
The act of January 29, 1795 (1 Stat. 414) increased the period of residence required for citizenship from 2 to 5 years. It also required applicants to declare publicly their intention to become citizens of the United States and to renounce any allegiance to a foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty 3 years before admission as citizens. Immigrants who had "borne any hereditary title, or been of the order of nobility" were also required to renounce that status. These actions could be taken before the supreme, superior, district, or circuit court of any State or Territory, or before a Federal circuit or district court of the United States.
On April 14, 1802, Congress passed an act (2 Stat. 153) that directed the clerk of the court to record the entry of all aliens into the United States. The clerk collected information including the applicant's name, birthplace, age, nation of allegiance, country of emigration, and place of intended settlement, and granted each applicant a certificate that could be exhibited to the court as evidence of time of arrival in the United States.
Certain doubts had arisen as to whether State and local courts were included within the description of U.S. district or circuit courts. The act of 1802 reaffirmed that every State and Territorial court was considered a district court within the meaning of the laws pertaining to naturalization, and that any persons naturalized in such courts were accorded the same rights and privileges as if they had been naturalized in a district or circuit court of the United States.
The act of 1802 was the last major piece of naturalization legislation during the 19th century. A number of minor revisions were introduced, but these merely altered or clarified details of evidence and certification without changing the basic nature of the admission procedure. The most important of these revisions occurred in 1855, when citizenship was automatically granted to alien wives of U.S. citizens (10 Stat. 604), and in 1870, when the naturalization process was opened to persons of African descent (16 Stat. 256).
On June 27, 1906, Congress passed an act (34 Stat. 596) that expanded the existing Immigration Bureau to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and put it in charge of "all matters concerning the naturalization of aliens." Although the new Bureau was part of the Department of Labor and Commerce initially, and part of the Department of Labor from 1913 to 1940, most of its operations were directed by the Department of Justice, and, in 1940, the Bureau was made part of the Justice Department. Under the act of 1906, every petition for naturalization became a case for examination by Bureau officials.
This act also established the basic procedure for naturalization during the period 1906-52. The procedure began with the filing of a declaration of intention, which recorded the applicant's oath to the clerk of the court that it was his or her bona fide intention to become a citizen of the United States, to reside permanently therein, and to renounce all allegiances to other nations. Within a period of 2 to 7 years after filing the declaration, the applicant could petition the court for citizenship, presenting at this time the affidavits of two witnesses with personal knowledge of the applicant, stating that the applicant had resided in the United States for at least 5 years and possessed a good moral character. The petition then became the subject of an investigation and hearing before a judge. Officials of the Bureau conducted preliminary examinations and submitted findings and recommendations to the court. The hearing before a judge was the last step in the procedure, provided the judge found the findings and recommendation of naturalization officials favorable and satisfactory. If so, the applicant would take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and laws and renounce all foreign allegiances, and the judge would issue an order of admission to citizenship and grant the applicant a certificate of citizenship. However, a judge could also order a continuance of the investigation or deny the petition, listing the reasons for the denial. A major change in this procedure occurred in 1952, when the filing of the declaration of intention was eliminated.
On May 9, 1918, Congress passed an act (40 Stat. 542) stating that any alien who had been a member of the Armed Forces for 3 or more years could file a petition for naturalization without proof of the 5-year residency requirement, and that any applicant who had been in the service during World War I was exempt from the requirement to file a declaration of intention. This act consolidated the previous statutes of July 17, 1862 (12 Stat. 597), which allowed waiver of the filing of a declaration if the applicant had a favorable discharge from the Army, and of July 24, 1894 (28 Stat. 124), which extended this provision to applicants discharged from the Navy or the Marines.
On September 22, 1922, Congress enacted a law (42 Stat. 1021) that changed the naturalization procedure for married women. Before that date, women who were married to a U.S. citizen or naturalized citizen automatically became U.S. citizens by reason of the marriage. The new law required that any woman married after the date of enactment who desired to become a citizen must meet the requirements of the naturalization laws. No declaration of intention was needed, however, and the period of required residence was reduced from 5 years to 1 year.
Two other government acts influenced the course of naturalization proceedings in the United States. The Immigration Act of 1924 (43 Stat. 153) enacted a policy of quota restrictions on immigration. It provided for an annual quota of immigrants allowed entry into the United States and limited those persons eligible for naturalization to a number based on the ratio of the number of citizens of the same nationality already residing within the United States to the total U.S. population in 1920. The result of this law was that emigrants from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland made up more than two-thirds of those eligible under the annual maximum quota. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (66 Stat. 163), more commonly known as the McCarran Act, revised the 1924 act by basing the annual quota on a flat one-sixteenth of 1 percent of the population as recorded in the 1920 census. More important, it removed race as a barrier to immigration and naturalization by assigning a quota of not fewer than 100 persons to countries whose citizens were previously ineligible for naturalization.
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Last modified June 18, 2003