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Albert Einstein receives his certificate of American citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman, 1941.

With the exception of Native Americans, all citizens of the United States or their ancestors come from somewhere else.  To become a citizen of the United States is to be part of redefining who is an American, as streams of immigrants have created our multicultural nation.

Since the passage of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, all people born in the United States have automatically become citizens, in contrast to an earlier system based on the Naturalization Act of 1790 which limited citizenship to whites. Immigrants have to go through a process of naturalization in which they pledge loyalty to the United States and promise to defend the Constitution and to accept the responsibilities of citizenship.

Three immigrants recite the oath of allegiance at a citizenship swearing-in ceremony at LaGuardia Community College, 2006.

After becoming citizens, immigrants have used the right to vote as a means of political participation and empowerment.  In 19th century New York City, these new citizens - mostly Irish and Germans - became loyal supporters of Tammany Hall, a political club which provided jobs, support and benefits to immigrants in return for their votes. 

In the 20th century,a coalition of New York's Italians and Jews elected Fiorello La Guardia as mayor.  After World War II, new immigrants from the British West Indies and, most recently, from the Dominican Republic have become important voting blocs and political players in New York City.  In 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa, a Mexican-American, was elected Mayor of Los Angeles.

Legislationsuch as the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and California's Proposition 187 in 1994, both of which restricted immigrants’ access to government benefits, encouraged more than one million immigrants to become citizens in a single year. These new voters changed the political culture not only in California, but also in Texas and many other states.  History and the current political debate have shown that immigrant voting power will remain an important part of America’s political culture.


Yetta Mark initially became a citizen through her marriage to her husband Jacob Mark. She lost her citizenship when she became a widow. She reapplied to become a citizen again in 1933.