50 Percent of New Yorkers Fail New 10-Question Naturalization Exam in Informal Survey

New questions to determine U.S. citizenship include highest mountain, longest river, Federalist Papers' writers, and Ben Franklin's business

More than 50 percent of New Yorkers failed a simulated 10-question naturalization exam composed of new questions recently released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to an informal survey of 250 people held at City Hall Park over a three-day period. Respondents averaged 5.4 correct answers per exam.

The new questions include:

  • What is the tallest mountain in the United States?What is the longest river in the United States?
  • Name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers.
  • What is the current minimum wage in the United States?
  • Name on thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for.
  • Where is the Grand Canyon?

“How does knowing the country’s tallest mountain, longest river, or Benjamin Franklin’s biography indicate whether one is fit for citizenship and will become a productive member of American society?” said Andrew Stengel, Executive Director of Northeast Regional Office of PFAWF. “We wonder if the goal of Citizenship and Immigration Services in redesigning the exam is to reduce the current 84 percent pass rate. We hope the pilot test isn’t actually a pilot program to suppress naturalization.”

People For the American Way Foundation administered the simulated naturalization exam in response to a pilot program announced last month by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services using their new and reworded questions. The redesigned exam will consist of 10 randomly selected questions of which at least six must be answered correctly to pass. CIS released 144 questions and answers—80 of which are new or reworded—that will be taken by as many as 5,000 volunteer citizenship applicants in 10 cities including Albany, N.Y., and Boston, Mass. The pilot exam will be administered in 2007 with the goal of using a redesigned test the following year with 100 questions.

>Don't know the number of amendments to the U.S. Constitution? Neither did they. The exam is designed with open-ended answers, not multiple choice, and some questions are worded vaguely, provoking broad, incorrect replies. For example, the answer to the question “Who is the Attorney General?” could be Alberto Gonzales or any of the state attorneys general, but only the former answer is acceptable, according to CIS. Neither the Adirondacks nor Great Smoky mountains are listed as answers to “Name one large mountain range.” According to CIS, the only acceptable answers are the Rocky Mountains, Appalachians, Sierra Nevada, and the Cascades.

“Gaining citizenship is of paramount importance to immigrants, and CIS shouldn’t place unnecessary stumbling blocks for people seeking to become an integral part of this country,” said Tanya Clay House, Public Policy director for PFAWF. “CIS should scrap the new questions, which are more worthy of a quiz show, and stick to questions that are relevant to citizenship.”

PFAWF created eight unique naturalization surveys by randomly selecting 10 different questions from the 80 new and reworded questions. The simulated exams were given orally to pedestrians at City Hall Park on Friday, Monday and Tuesday, December 15 to 19 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The civics portion of the test requires at least six of 10 correct answers to pass. The citizenship process, which costs $390 for the application and biometric fingerprinting, also requires working knowledge of the English language, and if successful, an oath of allegiance. One must also reside as a legal permanent resident in the US for five years less 90 days, though there are exceptions, to be eligible for naturalization.

PFAWF, a national social justice organization that advocates for civil rights and equal rights, civic participation, judicial independence, constitutional liberties and public education, was founded 25 years ago by legendary TV producer and progressive activist Norman Lear in reaction to the alarming rise of the radical right. Today, PFAWF has grown into a vibrant multi-issue progressive organization with headquarters located in Washington, D.C., and five regional offices.

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