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When it comes to immigration and legal status in the United States, a lot of terms get thrown around. But there’s often confusion around the difference between a “lawful permanent resident” and a “U.S. citizen.

At our New Orleans-based immigration firm Pelton & Balducci, we believe all of our clients should be able to navigate the complex world of immigration law with confidence so they can safely build their lives in the U.S. Let’s dive into the differences between these two statuses.


U.S. citizens hold a unique and privileged status within the country. There are three primary paths to becoming a U.S. citizen:

  • Birthright: Anyone born within the territory of the United States is automatically a citizen. This principle of birthright citizenship is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and applies to everyone, regardless of their parents’ immigration status.
  • Descent: If one or both parents are U.S. citizens, children born outside the country can acquire U.S. citizenship through their parents under most circumstances.
  • Naturalization: Immigrants who have lived in the United States as lawful permanent residents for a specified period can apply for naturalization. This process involves meeting eligibility requirements, passing a citizenship exam, and taking an oath of allegiance.

U.S. citizens enjoy numerous benefits, including the ability to reside outside the country indefinitely, the right to vote in U.S. elections, and, with very limited exceptions, protection against deportation.

Lawful Permanent Residence

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs), often referred to as “green card holders,” also hold a special place in the U.S. immigration landscape. A green card provides people the authorization to live and work in the United States indefinitely. They can also petition for certain family members to join them in the U.S.

However, it’s essential to understand that an LPR’s status is not as secure as that of a U.S. citizen. Unlike citizenship, which is very difficult for the government to take away, LPR status can be lost under certain circumstances:

  • Criminal Activity: Committing certain crimes can lead to removal (deportation) proceedings against LPRs. This just goes to show how important it is to avoid breaking the law in order to maintain immigration status.
  • Abandonment of Residence: Prolonged absences from the United States can be interpreted as an intention to abandon residence. LPRs should be cautious about spending too much time abroad.
  • Failure to comply with terms of immigration status generally: LPRs are amenable to deportation if they violate deportation grounds. Deportation grounds include the criminal activity listed above, but also include a broader level of activity, potentially including failure to keep the U.S. government informed of their current addresses.

In addition to this precarious immigration status, LPRs also cannot vote in U.S elections, and cannot spend long amounts of time outside the country, absent special conditions.

Contact a New Orleans Immigration Attorney

At Pelton & Balducci, we understand just how vital lawful permanent resident status and citizenship are. Our team of experienced immigration attorneys is dedicated to helping people obtain lawful status, get on the path to a green card, maintain their status, and eventually acquire citizenship. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation and discuss your immigration case.

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