Why Joe Biden should scrap US naturalization tests newsbhunt


“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies…”
Exactly 10 years ago, I joined 136 people from 43 countries at a naturalization ceremony in a courtroom in downtown New York to proclaim our allegiance to the country that had embraced us as its own. Overcome by the emotional charge of the occasion, we struggled to keep our voices steady — and our eyes dry. Even Janet Napolitano, administering her final oath as secretary of homeland security, teared up as she welcomed us as “my fellow citizens.”
I was flanked by a young woman from Ukraine and a middle-aged man from Peru; she worked on Wall Street, and he was a cab driver. As we told each other of the journeys that had brought us to that magical moment, her English was heavily accented; his was liberally interspersed with Spanish.
At one point, we talked about what had been the final hurdle on the path: The citizenship tests. She’d found the civics quiz quite stressful; he, like me, thought it had been easy-peasy. We didn’t talk about the other test — the one that judged our English skills. More than likely, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services officers who had interviewed us skipped over that part of the process in order to move things along. In my case, the examining officer had said something along the lines of, “You’ve made it this far. There’s no need to waste our time on this.”
The Biden administration, which is proposing to make the English test harder, apparently does not understand what my USCIS examiner had come to recognize, from some combination of intuition and experience: If you want to be an American and have lived in this country long enough to qualify, then a language test is entirely redundant.
In the current format, the officer conducting the naturalization interview can evaluate the applicant’s speaking ability by asking questions she or he has already answered when filing the paperwork. The new test, meant to go into effect next year, would include a speaking section in which applicants would be asked to describe scenes depicted in photographs, such as kinds of food or activities like commuting to work.
It sounds simple enough, but it is no less superfluous for that. All applicants for citizenship are tested by the ultimate arbiter of American life: The free market. Before they can get to the naturalization test, their abilities are vetted by a system that requires immigrants to find work, shelter, food and access to education and healthcare, with little support from the state.
And living the American way puts us all through a long and continuous examination, unlike the brief, one-off test at the USCIS. I had been fortunate to be fast-tracked for the Green Card that confers permanent residency in the US, and then waited five years, the minimum requirement, before applying for citizenship. It had taken the Ukrainian twice as long and the Peruvian three times as long to reach the test stage. By then, we were as fluent as required by the nature of our livelihoods and, by extension, our lives.
What’s more, we were in a country where the government — city, state and federal alike — was getting better and better at communicating in languages other than English. Multilingual forms are the norm rather than the exception, and even the USCIS website offers information in 33 languages, from Amharic to Vietnamese.
If the language test is unnecessary, the civics test is just plain unfair. Applicants must correctly answer six out of 10 questions chosen from a published set of 100. Polls have shown most Americans would fail: Why should those who want to join their ranks be held to a higher standard?
Joe Biden is not the first American president to try and raise the bar for naturalization. Donald Trump wanted to make the civics test longer and to introduce more politically loaded questions. Biden rightly scrapped that plan. This makes his administration’s proposal for a tougher English test even more inexplicable.
Over 9 million Green Card holders are eligible for citizenship, but barely 10% of them apply for naturalization each year. The Biden administration has said it wants that proportion to grow. In typical Washington fashion, it has set up an interagency committee to come up with a strategy to encourage more people to take the path that brought me to that New York courthouse 10 years ago.
Here’s a good place to start: Scrap the civics and language tests.
(Bloomberg Opinion: By Bobby Ghosh)


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