For certain immigration advocates, U.S. citizenship means little more than where a citizen hangs his hat. For those with a deeper appreciation for what it means to be an American — including those of us who celebrate our immigrant origins and support orderly immigration — citizenship comes with responsibilities. Being a citizen means first of all understanding the historical, cultural and intellectual heritage of the country you are asking to join.
With that in mind, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has spent the last several years revamping the naturalization process for would-be citizens. On Nov. 30, the immigration service revealed pilot questions for its new citizenship test that it says are designed to test an immigrant’s un- derstanding of American civics, rather than a set of easily memorized facts.
For instance, instead of only asking who wrote the Declaration of Independence, a new question asks, “Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence” — a much better question since the test-taker must actually read the document to answer correctly. These kind of questions expand the number of available answers, instead of having just one correct answer to memorize. The new list of acceptable answers to this particular question include “People are born with natural rights,” as well as “The power of government comes from the people.” To cite another good example, previous tests would ask, “What are the colors of the flag?” Now, a new question asks, “Why do we have 13 stripes on the flag?”
These are welcome changes. We are especially encouraged to see pilot questions many Americans would be hard-pressed to answer. For example, do you know how many amendments to the Constitution there are? And could you name one of the authors of the Federalist Papers?
We note that the 144 pilot questions still include a few “gimmes,” such as who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and when was it signed, but the quality of the questions is much improved. The immigration service will conduct sample tests over the next year to evaluate which questions work better than others, although we trust that a “good” question won’t be defined as merely an easy one.
Naturally, not everyone is happy with the new questions. Immigration groups are lin- ing up to criticize the questions as being too difficult and placing too great an emphasis on English proficiency. “It’s about barriers to letting people become citizens,” says Christina DeConcini, policy director for the pro-open-borders National Immigration Forum. We disagree. To “become a citizen” means more than changing your passport.
No one who bothers to study a little would have a hard time passing the new test. There’s even a study guide for immigrants which will give everyone who pays attention everything they need to know to sail to an A-plus. The immigration service doesn’t want anyone to fail. Quite the contrary, it wants immigrants to succeed and become even better-informed Americans than some of us who were lucky enough to be born here.