The Responsibilities of U.S. Citizenship Explained
U.S. citizenship affords people many privileges and responsibilities. Below, you’ll discover U.S. citizenship responsibilities you should know.
When you become a citizen of the United States of America, you get to enjoy all of the rights that come with being an American. Naturalized citizens of the United States have nearly all the same rights that citizens born in the United States have, and they also have all of the same responsibilities.
If you want to enjoy your rights as a U.S. citizen, you must fulfill your responsibilities. Some responsibilities are involuntary. Other responsibilities are voluntary obligations to American society that help to make the United States a wonderful place to live.
What Are the Involuntary Responsibilities of Citizens?
Involuntary responsibilities are things you must do as a United States citizen. Every citizen of the U.S., whether they chose to become a citizen or were born a citizen, will have the same responsibilities — that’s part of what being a citizen means.
If you fail to fulfill your responsibilities of citizenship, you can face serious consequences for civil disobedience.
Everyone in the United States who makes money needs to pay taxes on that money for the sake of the economy and the common good. This includes income from all sources. Whether you work a traditional nine-to-five job, own a small business, buy and resell items or property, or profit from investments, you must report every dollar to the IRS.
American citizens are taxed according to specific income brackets. You will pay a percentage of your income to the IRS depending on how much you make. This percentage ranges from 10% to 37% of your total income. People with large annual incomes pay more in taxes than those with modest annual incomes.
The money you pay in taxes goes to support the costs of running the country. Most of the money you pay in federal taxes is used to support nationwide healthcare programs, social security programs, and national security expenses.
You’ll also have to pay state and local taxes. State and local taxes are used to support the infrastructure and local programs of the state where you live.
Obeying the Law
Everyone who lives in the United States is expected to follow the law as a criterion for good citizenship. Many laws and rules govern American society. There are laws imposed by the federal government called federal laws. Your case will be processed through the federal court system when you violate federal law.
There are also state laws. Every state has its own laws that you’re expected to follow. These laws may differ slightly from federal laws. You’ll be processed through your state’s court system if you’re charged with a crime under state law.
Committing a crime as a permanent resident, may lead to you being deported. It’s extremely rare that naturalized U.S. citizens are deported for committing crimes. In most cases, the justice system works the exact same way for native citizens and naturalized citizens.
Complying With Rule of Law
In issues of wrongdoing where it isn’t clear that a crime was committed, or if no one involved has been convicted of a crime, matters are handled in civil court. This is sometimes called a lawsuit. If someone believes another person to be at fault in a way that causes measurable harm or damage to their life or livelihood, they can file a lawsuit against that person.
The court will decide if any meaningful damage or harm was actually caused. If it was, they will decide who is responsible for causing that harm. The court can award someone monetary damages (an appropriate sum of money to fix the harm) if it’s found that they’ve been damaged by someone else.
If you are ever ordered by the court to pay fees, fines, or damages to another person, you must do so. If you don’t voluntarily pay damages, the court can order you to sell things you own or take money directly from your wages to pay off a judgment.
Swearing to Bear Arms, Work in Non-Combat Areas, or Work Under Civilian Direction
When you take the Oath of Allegiance at your naturalization ceremony, you agree to bear arms on behalf of the U.S. government, work in non-combat areas, or work under civilian direction during wartime.
It’s important to note that this is not the same as agreeing to join the selective service of the United States. Selective service is a military draft program that can call eligible male citizens to duty with the United States military during a time of war. Eligible males have to register for selective service before they become U.S. citizens.
(Although women are permitted to serve in the United States military, they are not required to sign up for selective service. Selective service registers only men between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.)
Upholding the Constitution of the United States
The Constitution is the document that establishes what the United States was founded to be. The first part of the constitution, called the Bill of Rights, describes the freedoms and rights that every American is entitled to. When you took the Oath of Allegiance, you pledged to uphold those values as a responsible citizen.
The oath you took states that you wouldn’t do anything to undermine the constitution of the United States. This means you won’t act against or jeopardize the freedoms of Americans or the basis of the American way. You can’t prevent someone from exercising their rights or lobbying against American freedoms.
Active Participation in Jury Duty
When someone commits a crime in the U.S., they’re allowed to request a trial with a jury of their peers. The jury is made up of members of the community who will listen to both sides of the case and decide if the person should be found guilty of the crime they’re accused of committing.
Juries are randomly selected, and any U.S. citizen can be called in for jury duty. You may receive a formal court document called a summons that tells you that you must appear in court. The court will decide who can become a part of the official jury. If you’re selected, you’re required to show up and follow the court’s instructions.
Jury duty isn’t common. Less than 1% of American adults will ultimately serve on a jury. Some Americans, like emergency service workers, disabled people, or parents who care for children full-time, are exempt from jury duty or can request an exemption. The court will not force people to participate in jury duty if they aren’t reasonably able to do so.
What Are the Voluntary Responsibilities of Every U.S. Citizen?
Being a U.S. citizen comes with many responsibilities that people actively enjoy. These responsibilities allow citizens to connect with their communities and make a positive difference. They also help shape the United States’ future into a place where everyone feels welcome and valued as a member of society.
Some countries (like Australia) require everyone to vote. Voting in the United States is considered very important, but it’s also completely voluntary; no public officials will force you to participate in the political system. Many U.S. government officials are chosen by election. Elected officials can choose other officials by appointing them as a member of their team.
The people get to decide who they want to elect to the most important positions. The entire country will vote for federal positions (like the president). You’ll also vote for the government that represents the state where you live, like your governor and your senators.
As a U.S. citizen, you can learn about our political parties and choose one that best represents your views. When you become a registered voter, you’ll be allowed to vote for the candidates you’d like to represent your party. You can register to vote online and receive a voter registration in the mail, or you can register to vote at government offices that issue official identification cards.
Tolerating Those Different From You
America was always intended to be a diverse place. Almost everyone in the United States is a descendant of immigrants that came from another part of the world. The population of the United States represents many different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and belief systems. The tolerance of so many co-existing cultures is what makes the United States united.
Tolerating those different from you means, at the very least, that you’re willing to quietly respect someone’s right to live their life in a way that isn’t harming anyone else. You don’t need to share their views or positions. You don’t even need to agree with them. You just have to respect their freedom of speech and their right to have their own point of view.
Embracing and learning from people who are different from you can make you a better person. Empathy is an important life skill that crosses all boundaries. As an American citizen, you may choose to honor and value the differences around you and work to respect people from all walks of life.
Involvement in Your Community
American communities come together to celebrate and support each other. Nearly every community holds events to celebrate holidays or local traditions. People like to get to know their neighbors and help each other out. Towns rally together for important causes when someone needs assistance. The spirit of community is strong in many parts of America.
If you have a strong community, they would love for you to be a part of community events. If you’re looking for friendship or companionship in the United States, keep an eye on your community’s event calendar.
Another part of being a good citizen is performing community service. Communities often work together to keep the area clean and safe. Your community may have a volunteer crew that picks up litter from public spaces or removes evidence of vandalism.
Some communities establish neighborhood watch programs to detect and report activity that might be unsafe. If you have a spare weekend every month, consider becoming a part of your community’s volunteer maintenance team.
Staying Informed About Current Issues
The United States is one of few places in the world with a 24-hour news cycle. No matter what time it is, you can turn on the television or go online and find news outlets discussing and reporting on current events and issues.
Current issues often significantly impact politics, especially when human rights issues and civil rights are brought to the forefront. The more you understand about current events, the more informed you’ll be when it comes time to vote.
The United States also allows for peaceful activism. People are free to react to current events and express how they feel about the impact of those events. You have the freedom to celebrate great things and call attention to events that you feel should inspire change.
Leaving a Legacy
To some people, the most important part of the American dream is leaving a legacy. You can leave a legacy for your children in the form of a family home or a family-owned business that will allow them to build a financially secure future.
You can leave an academic legacy by learning, discovering, inventing, and innovating. Your ideas have the potential to change the world for the better. The United States embraces bright minds who strive to create something great. Your exploration and experimentation can leave a historic legacy if you commit yourself to innovation.
Get Help Becoming a U.S. Citizen
If you’re a permanent resident of the United States and you’re interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, we can help. Cohen, Tucker & Ades has over 40 years of experience helping immigrants live, grow, and thrive in the United States.
When you’re ready to become a citizen, contact us. Our thorough immigration attorneys can walk you through the path to citizenship.