Many want to be US citizens, but becoming one is not easy

SEATTLE -- Even though every year hundreds of thousands of people become U.S. citizens, it’s not an easy process.

The process is called naturalization.

This Wednesday, about 500 people became U.S. citizens at the Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony in Seattle.

“It’s an empowering feeling that you have the same rights as a U.S. citizen,” said Omar Haggag.

A little more than 10 years ago, Haggag went through the naturalization process. Since then, he’s worked with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project helping hundreds of other people do the same thing.

However, he says it’s not an easy process to complete.

“We turn away almost half the people who contact us because we believe they won’t be able to naturalize,” said Haggag.

To even be eligible to apply to be a U.S. citizen you must:

-- Be at least 18;

-- Be a lawful permanent resident;

-- Have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years;

-- Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months;

-- Be a person of good moral character;

-- Be able to speak, read, write and understand English;

-- Have knowledge of U.S. government and history;

-- Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Haggag says a lot of this process also comes down to individual discretion of the caseworkers. He says recently he has seen the process become much stricter.

“We see more cases denied for violations that did not use to be problematic in the past,” said Haggag.

And even if you get through the background check portion, he says, you must wait months, or up to a year, for your background check, pay a $725 charge, and take a test.

But he says for the people who make it through, their hard work, time, and effort is well worth it.

“Once you have the piece of paper, I can feel the client is more invested because now it is their country,” he said.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, between 2010 and 2016, more than 4.9 million people became U.S. citizens.