Passing the test to become an American citizen soon will require more than knowing that there are 50 states or nine Supreme Court justices. Instead of memorizing minutiae about U.S. government and history, those seeking to put their hands on their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance will be assessed on their grasp of the nation's ideals.This is the second news or commentary piece in the last couple of weeks to make me feel there's still some common sense left in this country. Check out my earlier post covering Peggy Noonan's coolly reasoned argument in favor of slowing down the pace of immigration (and assimilating those already here).
Unveiling the first major change to the exam in 20 years, the federal government said Thursday that applicants for citizenship would be asked to explain such phrases as "we the people" and "inalienable rights." Instead of knowing how many branches make up the U.S. government (answer: three), they will have to explain why there is more than one.
The shift in emphasis comes after years of complaints that the exam tested trivia rather than prompting prospective citizens to understand the nation's shared identity. There also were charges that it was administered unfairly, with applicants in some cities receiving harder tests than those in others.
"The goal is to make it more meaningful," said Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "When you raise your hand and swear allegiance to the United States, you ought to know what you're swearing allegiance to."
The federal agency has a list of 144 draft questions, which it plans to try out in 10 cities — none in California. It will then winnow the list to 100 approved questions. Applicants will be given 10 of the questions. To pass, they must correctly answer six, as well as meet other requirements for citizenship.
After a year of bitter debate about overhauling the nation's immigration laws, the revamped test is likely to churn up controversy. Whereas some conservative organizations called the new questions an improvement, immigrant-rights groups have flagged some that they say are tougher and may raise hurdles to citizenship.
"Some of the questions are just off the wall," said Fred Tsao, policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "Other questions I found unusual. And the range of information that's being asked for is much broader."
On top of stemming the tide a bit, thumbs up for actually requiring new immigrants to really know something about American history. Among the current questions asked: "What are the colors of our flag?" Oooh! That's a toughie! It's a considerable improvement to require new citizens to have even a passing familiarity with the Declaration of Independence or the forms of participatory democracy.
Note that last sentence in the quote above, however. The open-borders activists will be up in arms at the thought of stiffening entry standards for the world's tired, poor huddled masses.