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“To All Aliens,” Mayor’s Committee on National Defense, 1917

This World War I era poster in six languages—English, German, Hungarian, Slovak, Yiddish and Italian—urged European immigrants to seek information about learning English and becoming U.S. citizens. As wars and other international events affected immigration, the United States gradually expanded opportunities for citizenship while encouraging assimilation, including learning “the American language,” English.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“To All Aliens,” Mayor’s Committee on National Defense, 1917

Enlarging the National Community

The First Congress (1789-1791) established federal procedures and criteria for foreign-born individuals to become U.S. citizens. These criteria permitted free whites of good character with two years’ residence in the United States to become naturalized citizens. Congress also allowed citizens’ children born outside the U.S. to be considered natural-born citizens. Over the following centuries, Congress readdressed the issue in a series of naturalization acts that sometimes excluded, but increasingly included, people of diverse races and origins.