US to Unveil New Citizenship
By Ben Arnoldy
To gain American citizenship, immigrants must be able to
answer such questions as: What was the 49th state added
to our Union What color are the stars on our flag? And who
wrote the Star Spangled Banner?
Sound trivial? The US government thinks so, and plans to
roll out a new pilot test this winter.
It will continue to be an oral test, conducted in English,
and will have 10 questions. Six correct answers will earn
a passing grade. But the content, which is tightly under
wraps, is expected to shun simple historical facts about
America that can be recounted in a few words for more explanation
about the principles of American democracy, such as freedom.
The changes raise the bar - critics say too high - for immigrants
to show not only that they care enough to study for a test,
but also that they understand and share American values.
Behind the shift is rising anxiety among Americans about
high levels of immigration and European troubles with large,
unassimilated communities, say observers.
"Whenever there is a large number of immigrants, people
talk about having an assimilation policy," says John
Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think
tank in Washington. "We've always had an Americanization
policy of some type [but] we haven't so much in the last
20, 30 years.... I'd see this as continuing that tradition,
which Europe did not do."
Immigrant advocacy groups are wary of the changes, which
coincide with a review at the US Citizenship and Immigration
Services (USCIS) agency that is expected to call for a substantial
hike in the $400 citizenship application fees.
"The administration is putting up [another] wall to
citizenship for immigrants between a longer application
process, higher fees, and what may very well be a more difficult
test," says Ali Noorani, of the Massachusetts Immigrant
and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "Immigration is a culture
war today. Is the way to lessen the rhetoric in that war
to administer a new test?"
Mr. Noorani is withholding final judgment on the changes
until they become public Nov. 29.
The revisions are an effort, say officials, to make the
test a more teachable moment - without making it more difficult.
The questions and answers - which will be publicly available
- are expected to draw on concepts in the nation's founding
documents. The pilot will be rolled out on a trial basis
in 10 cities across the country, including Boston . If participants
fail, they can retake the regular test, a test that very
"Look at the Bill of Rights and some of the values
and rights that are enshrined in [it]. Those could possibly
be test question topics [as could] the meaning of democracy,
the meaning of freedom," says Shawn Saucier, spokesman
for the USCIS, adding that some immigrants "come from
a culture, a government, a society that is completely removed
from our concept of government…"
(Courtesy The Christian Science Monitor)