You are on page 1of 10

Citizens Rights

tate and federal laws try to make the government accountable


and open to citizens. These laws guarantee that all adults can vote
on public officials and ballot measures and can attend certain
meetings held by their elected officials. This section discusses citizenship
and some of the basic rights and responsibilities it gives people.

Topics
California Citizenship and Residency..................................................................... 57
Immigrating to the United States.............................................................................58
Local Government Meetings........................................................................................ 59
United States Citizenship............................................................................................... 61
Voting......................................................................................................................................... 62

Related Topics
Courts, Lawsuits, and Mediation............................................................................103
Jury Duty............................................................................................................................114
Employees Rights.............................................................................................................183
Immigrant Workers...................................................................................................... 200
Government Benefits......................................................................................................217

Additional Resources
Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview, by
Ilona Bray (Nolo), explains how immigrants with green cards can apply to
naturalize.

56|nolos guide to california law

U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo), includes instructions on


how to secure temporary and permanent visas, as well as green cards.
Fianc and Marriage Visas: A Couples Guide to U.S. Immigration, by Ilona
Bray (Nolo), helps guide couples through the process of immigrating based
on a marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
The websites of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov)
and the U.S. State Department (www.state.gov) contain lots of information
on visas, green cards, and immigration.

Citizens Rights|57

California Citizenship and Residency


You are a California citizen if either of the following is true:
You were born in California and reside here, unless your parents
were transient aliens (not citizens of the United States, foreign
ministers, or consuls).
You were born out of state, but are a U.S. citizen and California
resident. (Govt. Code 241.) (Anyone born in the U.S. is a
citizen.)

Residency
Your residence is the state in which you live when not called elsewhere
for work or some other temporary purpose. The California statute
quaintly defines it as the place where a person returns in seasons of
repose. You can be a resident of only one state at a time. You must not
only live there, but also intend for that state to be your residence. (Govt.
Code 244.)
Many state benefits, such as most welfare payments, are available only
to California residents. In addition, residents may receive other benefits,
such as lower tuition at state universities. The catch is that you must not
only be a resident, but also be able to prove your residency.

Proving California Residency


To prove you are a California resident, take the following steps:
Establish a permanent home mailing address in California.
Register to vote in California.
Get a California drivers license and California license plates for
your car, and have insurance issued to you at your California
mailing address.
Open bank accounts, take out memberships, and get a local
library card or any other tangible evidence that you live in the
state and intend to stay here.

58|nolos guide to california law

Immigrating to the United States


There are two main ways that a noncitizen can live in the United States
legally: get a green card, which gives permanent resident status; or get a
visa, which allows a limited stay in the U.S. for a specified purpose, such
as doing business, attending school, or traveling.

Green Cards
A green cardformally known as a Permanent Resident Cardis a
means of identifying yourself as a permanent legal resident. It gives you
the right to work and live in the U.S.
Only people who fit into one of the eligibility categories established
by Congress can get a green card. Even eligible people often have to wait
a long time for a green card to become available, because of yearly limits
on both the number of people who can be admitted within certain
categories and the number of people who can be admitted from any
given country.
Broadly speaking, the categories of people who are eligible for green
cards include:
family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents
those who have been offered jobs in the U.S. for which no U.S.
workers can be foundparticularly jobs requiring specialized
skills
those who invest large amounts of capital in U.S. companies
people who have been granted refuge or asylum in the U.S., or
a number of specially recognized immigrants, such as religious
workers.
But youll need to look further into the numerous technical require
ments for each category and restrictions on who qualifies as, for example,
a relative or an investor. (8 U.S.C. 1151.)

Nonimmigrant Visas
A nonimmigrant visa gives its holder the right to stay temporarily in
the United States to pursue a specific activity. The visa authorizes only

Citizens Rights|59

that activityso, for example, a student visa may authorize studying


at a university but does not authorize full-time employment. How long
you can stay in the U.S. using your nonimmigrant visa depends on the
purpose for which the visa was issuedlook for the exact date on the
I-94 card youre given when entering the United States.
Among the many nonimmigrant visa categories are:
ambassadors, diplomats, and representatives of foreign
governments
skilled workers
business visitors
tourists
students
fiancs and fiances of U.S. citizens who are coming to the U.S. to
get married
artists, entertainers, and athletes coming to the U.S. to perform,
and
religious workers. (8 U.S.C. 1184.)

Local Government Meetings


Most local governments in California are required by law to hold
open meetings, except under very limited circumstances. (Govt. Code
54950 and following.) An open meeting means that any member
of the public can attend and comment on the issues being discussed.
However, the agency can limit overall speaking time and the time
allotted for each speaker. Meetings must be accessible to people with
disabilities. (Govt Code 54953.2.)
People who attend cannot be forced to identify themselves or sign
something. They can record, tape, or take pictures of open meetings
unless it would be disruptive. Some meetings may be conducted by
teleconference. (Govt. Code 54953.3, 54953.5.)

60|nolos guide to california law

What Meetings Must Be Open


All regular meetings of the legislative body of a local agencysuch as
a county board of supervisors, city or town council, school board, or
municipal corporation board of directorsmust be open and public,
unless an exception applies. (Govt. Code 54953.) Exceptions include
performance evaluations of public employees, security threats to public
buildings or facilities, and similarly sensitive issues. (Govt. Code
54957.)

Notice and Agendas


If the meeting is one that is regularly scheduled, the legislative body
must publicly post an agenda for the meeting at least 72 hours before
it is to be held. Disabled persons can request the agenda in an alternate
format, including information on how to request disability-based
accommodations in order to attend the meeting.
Every agenda must include an opportunity for members of the public
to address the legislative body on items of interest to the public. (Govt
Code 54954.3.) Items not on the agenda can be discussed only if an
emergency arises, if the need to take immediate action on the item arose
after the agenda was posted, or if the item was continued from a prior
meeting held not more than five days before. For special meetings (that
is, meetings that are not regularly scheduled), a notice must be posted
at least 24 hours in advance in a location that is freely accessible to the
public. (Govt. Code 54954.2, 54956.)
Emergency meetings can be called to deal with threatened or actual
disruption of public health or safety, such as might be caused by work
stoppages, acts of terrorism, or disasters. Although no notice to the
public is required, the legislative body must make an effort to notify
local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations that have
requested mailed notice of meetings. (Govt. Code 54956.5.)
If you want to receive advance copies of the meeting agendas, you
must file a written request and possibly pay a fee. The request is valid for
the calendar year in which it is filed. You must renew your request after
January 1 of each year. (Govt. Code 54954.1.)

Citizens Rights|61

United States Citizenship


There are several ways to become a U.S. citizen. If you were born in
the U.S., you are automatically a citizen. If you were born outside the
U.S., you may be a citizen if one or both of your parents were U.S.
citizens when you were born. Also, you may become a U.S. citizen if
you were a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. when at least one of
your parents were naturalized (depending on the laws in effect when the
naturalization took place), or if you apply to naturalize on your own.

Naturalization
Naturalization is a process by which immigrants can become U.S.
citizens. You must meet five requirements to qualify for naturalization:
You must be at least 18 years old.
You must have a green card (giving you permanent legal resident
status).
Since becoming a permanent resident, you must have lived
continuously in the U.S. for five years (occasional short trips
outside the U.S. dont count), and in the state where you will apply
for citizenship for three months. These time requirements are
shorter for spouses of U.S. citizens whove been married for three
years. Asylees and refugees may count some of the time they spent
in the U.S. before applying for the green card.
You must have good moral character, as determined by U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
You must not have broken any immigration laws or been asked to
leave the U.S. at any time.
If you meet these requirements, you can apply to USCIS for natural
ization. You will be interviewed, which serves three purposes: to verify
the information on your application; to test your ability to speak,
read, and write basic English; and to test your knowledge of American
government and history. You must pass these tests to be approved for
citizenship.
When your application is approved, you will be sworn in at a
ceremony. You must take an oath to defend the U.S. and to relinquish

62|nolos guide to california law

your allegiance to your former country (although you can retain dual
citizenship if your home country allows it).

Rights of Citizenship
Once you become a citizen through naturalization, you have almost all
the same rights as native-born citizens, including the right to register
to vote, the right to get a U.S. passport, and the right to run for most
public offices. However, you may not run for president or vice president
of the United States.
You can stop reporting your status to USCIS, and you can no longer
be removed if, for example, you are convicted of a crime.

Voting
You can vote in California if you have registered and you are:
a United States citizen
a resident of California
mentally competent
at least 18 years old, and
not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction. (Const. Art. II,
2, 4; Elect. Code 2000 and following.)

Registration
To register to vote, you must submit a signed application to the county
clerk, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or other designated public
agency at least 15 days before the election in which you want to vote.
Applications will be accepted as long as they are postmarked on or
before the 15th day before the election.

Absentee Voting
Any registered voter can request, in writing, an absentee ballot between
the 29th and seventh day before the election. The clerk mails the ballot
to the voter; there is no fee for the service. The voter must return the
ballot, in person or by mail, before the close of the polls on election

Citizens Rights|63

day. It may be returned to the official who sent it or dropped off at


any polling place in the county where you are registered. Once the
voter receives an absentee ballot, the voter can vote at polls only after
surrendering the absentee ballot to the precinct board. (Elect. Code
3000 and following.)
The website of the California Secretary of State contains more
information about voting procedures, as well as downloads of certain
forms. See www.sos.ca.gov., and look under Elections.

Copyright of Nolo's Guide to California Law is the property of Nolo and its content may not be copied or
emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission.
However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.