Currently, people become U.S. citizens in three main ways: they are born in the states or territories, they derive their citizenship from their American parent(s) because they were born abroad, or they naturalize after immigrating. These three categories of citizens all have the same rights and responsibilities, with few exceptions: notably, neither naturalized citizens nor overseas-born citizens (many of whose parents were abroad in the armed forces, Peace Corps, diplomatic service, etc.) can become President, and naturalized citizens may have their citizenship revoked if the government proves that they lied about something serious on their applications (like being war criminals).
In the Atlantic online, Eric Liu—former speechwriter and domestic policy adviser to President Clinton—reimagines the path to citizenship based on his ideas of what makes a really good citizen. Taking up an idea that crops up periodically in discussions about reshaping the nation’s immigration policies, Liu has written a citizenship test for the hypothetical scenario in which we did away with the Fourteenth Amendment provision of citizenship by birth. Liu clearly does not favor such a change, but is willing to entertain the implications of the proposal. What if, Liu asks, every adult had to “earn” citizenship by passing a test every ten years? “What might that exam look like?” Admittedly, the phrase “Modest Proposal” over the article headline suggests we might be looking at a satire here.
For a look at a real citizenship test, visit the Citizenship Resource Center at USCIS