DHS reported recently that 694,193 foreigners became Americans last year — up a little from 2010 but down a little from 2009. The naturalization statistics prompted me to take a look at the civics test that prospective citizens have to take. The test was revised a few years back, and applicants have to get six out of 10 questions correct to pass. The 10 questions are selected from a master list of 100 questions, all online. Here’s one of the questions, followed by the answer:
30. Kung ang Pangulo ay hindi na nakakapaglingkod, sino ang nagiging Pangulo?
* ang Pangalawang Pangulo
This is an easy one, of course, since anyone — oh, sorry, I got that from the Tagalog version of the citizenship test. (Here is the English version; the question numbers match.) And it’s not just a study guide to help people master the material first in their mother tongue, the better to be able to take the test in English; that would be a fine idea.
Rather, the test itself is given in foreign languages because certain foreigners can skip the English language test altogether, and take the civics test in the language of their choice: If they’re over 50 years old and have lived here as permanent residents (green-card holders) for at least 20 years; over 55 and at least 15 years’ residence; or over 65 and 20 years’ residence (and this last group can only be asked a subset of the easiest questions). Also, “If you have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment so severe that it prevents you from acquiring or demonstrating the required knowledge of English and civics, you may be eligible for an exception to these requirements.”
I get that certain older or disabled people are not going to be able to pass the citizenship tests — but then why should they become citizens? It’s not like they’re going to be thrown out of the country if they don’t get naturalized — we’ve already awarded them green cards and so they can live here undisturbed with their families or whoever for the rest of their lives. I suspect the reason Congress passed these exceptions was both to generate Democrat voters (it was in 1978) and to expand welfare eligibility, which is more generous for citizens than for permanent residents.
We should rejoice when newcomers decide to join the American people. But watering down the requirements, so that naturalization is like everyone on a little-league team getting a trophy for outstanding achievements in the field of excellence, cheapens citizenship for us all.