New Citizenship Exam
One of the constant features in the bishops’ discussions of immigration has been their insistence on a “path to citizenship” for both legal and undocumented immigrants.
Just as constant has been conservative opposition, particularly from those on the far right, to the facilitation of that transition. One of the most extreme proposals by Republican opponents of immigration in recent years, for example, has been the consideration of a statute that would eliminate, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. (Note, the birthright citizenship provision in the Fourteenth Amendment was added to that amendment in order to undo the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision.)
In light of this political context, it’s worth noting that the federal government is currently considering changes to the citizenship exam that would, among other things, make the questions more difficult, thereby increasing the hurdles for immigrants seeking to obtain citizenship. I’m all in favor of requiring new citizens to demonstrate a basic understanding of our system of government, and the questions in the old test did seem to be in need of revision, but some of the more open-ended questions under consideration, such as, “what is the rule of law?” or “what is self government?” or “what is the freedom of religion?” would be difficult for most American citizens to answer.
In fact, yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered, Robert Smith walked around New York City, asking people to answer some of the tougher questions. Most people could not. One woman, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stumped when asked to answer the questions about “rule of law” and “self-government.” When Smith asked her whether these questions, which she herself could not answer, would be fair to ask of immigrants seeking to become citizens, she said yes, explaining that, in her view, the questions should be as hard as possible. Lovely.
As I said, I can see the reasons for requiring those seeking citizenship to demonstrate a basic knowledge of our political and even cultural institutions, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a reason, other than opposition to naturalization, for requiring immigrants to demonstrate a level of civics knowledge beyond that of the typical American citizen.