A legal permanent resident (LPR) in the United States is still technically considered an alien. The terms are interchangeable and signify that the individual has legally immigrated to the United States, retains legal status, but is not a citizen of the country. As such, their rights and responsibilities are slightly different. Someone who is naturalized has previously been a resident alien, and they have gone through the lengthy N-400 process, effectively passing the citizenship exam and becoming a legal citizen of the country, although are still not native-born. This will be significant in the latter portion of this when discussing the issues with the Department of Justice’s approach to deportation.
Still, permanent residents hold many similarities to U.S. citizens. These include:
- Both LPRs and citizens are required to pay their federal income taxes annually.
- LPRs can buy property, take out a new line of credit in their name, and apply for a driver's license.
- Legal permanent residents share the right to sponsor close family relatives or spouses to come to the United States in much the same way that a citizen can do so on various USCIS forms. This specifically includes being able to file a petition I-130 on a partner’s behalf.
- Legal permanent residents can apply for federal financial aid. When it comes to applying for colleges, many U.S. citizens apply for financial aid to receive reduced annual rates of tuition at the expense of a conditional federal loan. Rates may differ as a green card holder. Permanent residents with Forms I-151, I-551, and I-551C can get multiple types of loans so they can afford their college tuition. Basically, you can get either federal student loans or private ones, depending on how much money you need.
- In terms of government jobs which often require security clearances, LPRs in addition to citizens have the right to apply for jobs and go through a process whereby a security clearance can be granted or rejected.
- A green card allows LPRs to travel internationally similarly to how a U.S. citizen would be able; with the intent of travel needed for CBP agents at a port of entry. Green card holders do not have to prove their residence as its already been contingent upon receiving their green card in the first place.
Points of Difference
While being a permanent resident as listed above affords individuals many new rights and freedoms as per the United States Constitution and INA, there are also significant differences in the law for U.S. citizens. For example, legal permanent residents, although they are green card holders, do not possess a U.S. passport. They retain their country of origin passport and therefore need to use such a passport if they were to eventually obtain a new visa in another country.
This represents a major point of difference because of how U.S. foreign policy has created certain agreements with the world in terms of international travel. For example, it is easy for U.S. citizens to travel internationally, because of trade allowances that have given Americans easy tourist visa rights in much of the West and East (such as the Schengen area).
As per domestic issues, only U.S. citizens, naturalized or native-born, can run for a government office in the United States and only U.S. citizens can vote in publicly held elections, whether it be in the primaries or presidential election every four years.
The way the U.S. government functions, in particular reference to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and their role in creating, or undoing policies, relating to deportations is particularly important when it comes to LPRs and U.S. naturalized citizens. The Department of Homeland Security (DOH) also places an emphasis on the “catch and return” policy that has become a trademark of the Trump Administration. While it has long been a policy of ICE and DOH to put undocumented immigrants into removal proceedings from the U.S., it is also possible to deport LPRs if they commit a crime (such as a drug offense) during the time they are a legal green card holder or if they are found guilty of fraudulent behavior. U.S. born citizens do not have to worry about being deported.
Additionally, U.S. naturalized citizens also differ from native-born U.S. citizens due to the current Administration’s policy of “denaturalization”, which was instituted in February of 2020 by the DOJ, a highly conservative immigration policy that seeks to be able to deport those who have gone through the N-400 naturalization process.
Such a denaturalization process has been formed due to a few instances of domestic terrorism in which the perpetrator had become a naturalized citizen years prior to their crimes. For example, in U.S. vs. al Dahab, the courts led a “successful civil denaturalization of individual convicted of terrorism offenses in Egypt who admitted recruiting for al Qaeda within the U.S. and running a communications hub in California for a jihadist terror organization. The defendant was [therefore] denaturalized while in Egypt, stripped of his passport, and prevented from returning to the U.S.”