The Trump administration has taken a step to make Trump’s wish come true.
But with all the news and the noise, you may have missed it:
The revisions to the naturalization exam may not result in more immigrants from “places like Norway,” but it will make passing the U.S. citizenship test much more difficult for immigrants who manage to enter and remain in this country.
The USCIS – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service – has announced the rollout a new citizenship test on December 1.
This new test, according to USCIS spokesman Dan Hetlage, “provides a more accurate measurement” of applicants’ understanding of civics and “ensures the reliability and validity of scores.
Not so, say experts quoted in a November 19 Herald News article:
“Eva Millona, CEO and President of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) said ‘these changes to the citizenship test are yet another example of the Trump Administration seeking to put up barriers to citizenship with little opportunity for input from communities that will be most impacted.’”
“Paulo Pinto, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS) said, ‘It is difficult to understand and accept the reasoning behind this announced change, which will create more barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen. The 2008 version of the test is already very challenging – even for U.S.-born citizens – and the added difficulty will only make the naturalization process longer and slower.’”
How much “longer and slower”?
According to this article in the Washington Post:
“The new exam requires applicants to answer at least 12 oral questions correctly, up from six under the most recent exam.”
“Officers must ask all 20 questions, while lawyers said they usually used to stop when an immigrant answered the required minimum of six correctly.”
“‘It’s basic math,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. ‘If you make the test twice as long, it takes twice as much time and USCIS officers will process half the applicants.’”
“Twice as much time”? Back to the Herald News article:
“Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the D.C.-based, nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, believes the changes can possibly triple the amount of time each Citizenship and Immigration Services officer spends testing applicants.
“‘These changes reduce the efficiency of this already struggling agency,’ Pierce told the Associated Press, referring to its citizenship application backlog. ‘The administration is adding hundreds of thousands of more minutes to these naturalization exams.’”
The administration is also adding tougher questions. One asks applicants to name five of the 13 original states, while the older test asked them to name three.
Another example: The older test requires test takers to name one of the three branches of government, while the new exam asks candidates to name all of them.
Can you name all three branches of our government? Can I?
I decided to take a look at some practice questions on the citizenship exam, to better understand what an immigrant might experience.
What bothers me most was the idea that a perfect candidate for citizenship might be denied that because she/he didn’t know the answer to this question:
Seriously? What does knowing the name of one of the two longest rivers in the U.S. have to do with being a good citizen?
How about this one:
How many people in this country could answer this correctly? I’m guessing not many, and that includes me. Does that mean USCIS is going to take away my citizenship?
And this one:
Oh, come on. I’m a good citizen, but I had to guess at this one. I just don’t consider it critical that I – or anyone except a Constitutional scholar – needs to know how many amendments the Constitution has.
And I am a good citizen, at least according to this “Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities” list on the USCIS website:
Nowhere on that list is there anything about knowing the name of one of the two longest rivers in the U.S.
In fact, the current citizenship test is already so difficult that a majority of people born in this country couldn’t pass it, according to this article:
And the Trump administration has made the new test even worse.
My hope is that the Biden administration will review – and undo – this blatant attempt to make it close to impossible for immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
Which is just one item on the miles-long list of damage Trump has inflicted on this country.
Because if this new citizenship test remains in place, our country will lose many of the wonderful contributions that future naturalized citizens could make.
And that’s a miles-long list, but one of the best kind: immigrants who have contributed greatly to our county, and to the world.
Just a few of the many:
Albert Einstein, Germany – inventor and physicist.
Sergey Brin, Russia – founder of Google, inventor and engineer.
Levi Strauss, Germany – creator of Levi’s jeans.
Madeleine Albright, Czechoslovakia – the first woman Secretary of State.
James Naismith, Canada – invented the game of basketball.
Audrey Hepburn, Belgium – actress.
Cary Grant, England – actor.
Sammy Sosa, Dominican Republic – athlete.
Maria von Trapp, Austria – inspiration for The Sound of Music.
Andrew Carnegie, Scotland – businessman, philanthropist.
Irving Berlin, Russia – composer, pianist.
John Lennon, England – composer, musician, singer.
Kumail Nanjiani, Pakistan – stand-up comedian, actor.
Alexander Hamilton, West Indies – Founding Father, lawyer, banker, and economist.
John Muir, Scotland – naturalist, writer, advocate of U.S. forest conservation.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria – writer.
Bob Hope, England – entertainer, television personality.
John James Audubon, Saint Domingue (now Haiti) – ornithologist, naturalist and artist.
Alex Trebek, Canada – Jeopardy! Host.
Jerry Yang, Taiwan – Yahoo co-founder.
Alexander Graham Bell, Scotland – inventor of the telephone.
Pramila Jayapal, India – first female Indian-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
And speaking of immigrants who became U.S. citizens and made great contributions, I must include this immigrant:
Freda Kelm, Germany – this blogger’s grandmother!