What makes someone an American citizen can be divided into two categories; legal and ideological. The legal definition of an American citizen is either being born a rightful citizen or naturalizing as one. The other definition of an American is the ideological aspect; the behavioral and cultural characteristics of being a legal entity as well as a part in a larger identity.

U.S. Soil

By definition, all persons born on U.S. soil or in U.S. territories are by birth a U.S. citizen regardless of the nationality or legal status of their parents. A child born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil is as much a rightful citizen as a child born to two citizen parents. Being born in the U.S. is accompanied by a U.S. birth certificate, which in turn is the document of your citizenship.

American Parents

It is possible to be born an American citizen outside of the United States. Any child born to an American mother or father has the right of American citizenship by birth, even if born in France or Brazil. For Americans born abroad, their birth must be registered with the U.S. Consulate General in the country where the child was born. The consulate can issue an American birth certificate, and thus “issues” the child's proof of citizenship.

Naturalization

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that all U.S. citizens, regardless of whether they were born a citizen or naturalized as a citizen are treated and seen equally in the law. There is no difference between citizenship, there is only one “kind.” Persons who qualify for naturalization are those who have fulfilled the residency requirement and have proven to be law-abiding citizens during their duration of residency. Spouses of American citizens can naturalize after three years of permanent residency, while all other legal residents can only naturalize after five years of of clean legal residency.

Paperwork and Forms

Legal citizenship, even when born of the right to citizenship, sometimes has to be officially claimed with paperwork. For foreign-born citizens, birth must be reported through the consulate, and for those who claim U.S. citizenship later in life through lineage must file application forms with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The application for claiming citizenship is application form N-600 and must be accompanied by a $460 application fee. For residents naturalizing as citizens, application form N-400 must be submitted with the $675 application fee to the USCIS.

Ideological

Aside from the strict legal definition of acting as a member of the country falling under its jurisdiction and protection; there is an ideological definition of what “makes” someone a U.S. citizen. There is no set definition of this ideology as it varies from one political ideology to the next. For Republican nativist thinkers, citizenship is described as a love for what makes America America, and a dislike for change (incoming nationalities and cultures that “blend”). Citizenship ideology is sometimes defined as love for the American ideal, the American dream, pride and patriotism for America above all other nations. Liberal ideas of citizenship ideology rest in cultural pluralism; a combing of anyone willing loyalty to the ideal of the nation in order to live together harmoniously (Roger M. Smith). In the end, citizenship is a feeling of belonging to a larger identity, and this is true for all nations.