On Nov. 30, 2006, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the release of 144 questions and answers for the pilot test of a new naturalization exam. Of the 144 questions, 80 are new or reworded.
Many of the proposed questions are excessively vague or require specific answers to broad questions. Few questions provide any rational indication of whether someone is fit for citizenship. Additionally, the new questions fail to emphasize the importance of understanding one’s rights and liberties under the Constitution.
People For the American Way Foundation created eight unique naturalization surveys by randomly selecting 10 different questions from the 80 new and reworded questions. The 10 questions were administered orally to pedestrians at City Hall Park on Friday, Monday and Tuesday, December 15 to 19 from 11:30 to 2:00 pm.
DEMOGRAPHICS OF PARTICIPANTS:
246 U.S. citizens surveyed.
Under 20: 6.9%
0.8% Staten Island
246 U.S. citizens surveyed.
124 failed the test: 50.41%
122 passed the test: 49.59%
The average score was 5.35 correct answers out of 10.
Specific results of the tests highlight serious problems with the proposed new questions.
PROBLEMS WITH THE TEST
Questions few New Yorkers could answer:
- What is the current minimum wage?
Correct answer: $5.15.
Only 10 percent answered correctly. 96% of respondents who gave an incorrect answer guessed that the minimum wage was higher than the current minimum, indicating it might be time for a boost.
- How many amendments does the Constitution have?
Correct answer: 27.
No one answered correctly.
- Name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers.
Correct answers: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.
Twenty percent answered correctly.
Questions are too vague:
- What is the “rule of law?”
Correct answers: Everyone must obey the law, leaders must obey the law and government must obey the law.
Twenty-three percent answered correctly. Responses varied widely, but included reasonable responses such as “innocent until proven guilty” and “having a court system.”
- What does “We the People” mean in the Constitution?
Correct answer: The power of government comes from the people.
Thirty-eight percent answered correctly. Many people answered that “We the People” means citizens of the U.S. or everyone in the United States
Questions require answers that are too specific:
- Who is the Attorney General now?
Correct answer: Alberto Gonzales.
Thirty percent answered correctly. Not only is this question very difficult, but it does not specify whether one is to name the state or federal attorney general.
- Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for.
Correct answers: U.S. diplomat, oldest member of the Constitutional Convention, first Postmaster General of the U.S., and writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Three percent answered correctly. Many respondents gave answers such as inventor of the pot-bellied stove or bifocals, the $100 bill, drafter and signer of the Declaration of Independence and signer of the Constitution. These answers would not receive credit, according to USCIS.
Questions provide no indication of whether someone is fit for citizenship:
- What is the tallest mountain in the United States
Correct answer: Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali.
Thirty percent answered correctly. It is difficult to make a connection between knowing the tallest mountain in the U.S. and determining if someone would be a good citizen.
- What is the longest river in the United States?
Correct answer: Missouri River
No one answered correctly. Eighty-four percent of people said the Mississippi River was the longest—not a bad guess considering the Missouri flows into the Mississippi system. Despite the fact that the two river systems combine, this answer is not deemed as correct.
Important questions are not asked:
- No questions address the process of registering to vote.
- No questions specifically address a person’s freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to a trial before their peers or the constitutional right of habeas corpus.