The Case for Abolishing the Citizenship Exam – By Heba Gowayed (Slate) / Nov 26 2020
It’s expensive, ineffective, and discriminatory.
On Nov. 13, the Trump administration added new civics questions to the United States citizenship exam and required immigrants answer more questions to pass. The policy shift, which will take effect Tuesday, adds yet another roadblock on top of previous policies that have been widely criticized as xenophobic, like raising application fees, slashing the resettlement program, and restricting asylum eligibility . President-elect Joe Biden could certainly roll these policies back when he takes office. But these changes raise the question: Why keep the exam at all? The notoriously complex test is an unnecessary barrier to citizenship for immigrants who are otherwise legally eligible to apply.
Each week along with other volunteers, I host a citizenship clinic for a group of 20 Syrian refugees. Over the course of the 90-minute class, students laugh as they stumble over the pronunciation of the three branches of government, and the answer to the question “what is the rule of law?” Though fun, the class has an urgent goal—this information is a prerequisite for their inclusion as citizens of the United States.
Immigrants, including the refugees in my class, can apply for citizenship after maintaining permanent residence for a minimum of five years. To begin the application process, they fill out an N400 form, which asks demographic information and questions pertaining to their “moral character”—such as whether they have ever been imprisoned for a felony, engaged in sex work, or trafficked drugs. They must pay $1,160 per person, a filing fee the Trump administration recently increased from $725.
After clearing these hurdles, they must face what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services identifies as the most “worrisome” part of the process for immigrants—sitting for the naturalization exam.