On September 27, 2007, the Bush-led government released a revised version of the naturalized citizenship test with some important changes. For the current exam, there are ninety-six questions, but on the new exam, there are one hundred questions. A handful of the newly introduced questions, one example being "If both the president and vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president?," emphasize understanding how the American government is structured while other questions require comprehension beyond mere memorization. The new exam compels citizen-hopefuls to use critical thinking to answer. Few people can argue that the revisions are unfair because becoming a citizen is indisputably a status an immigrant should earn; more challenging questions are thus a means to ensuring that citizen-hopefuls grasp core American ideas and values. However, the new exam that will be introduced starting October 1, 2008, allows for only a specific answer rather than the previous exam which permitted some flexibility in answering the questions. My mother, who is currently applying for naturalized citizenship, may have difficulties in repeating the exact answers that are in the study guides, especially given her trouble translating Chinese into English. As a result, immigrants like her will need to memorize the answers provided by their study guides and brush up on English, and these factors may decrease the number of people passing the test. The image on the right depicts a diverse group of people swearing in their oaths before receiving citizenship status, which may perhaps be a distant reality once the new test is implemented.
Another problem with the revised citizenship test is that it does not reflect or cater to a diverse range of immigrants. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials' education fund, critiqued that immigrant advocacy groups had no opportunity to "comment on the very final version of the exam." This is a flaw on the U.S. Immigration and Services' part because advocacy groups' are more sensitive to the needs of certain immigrant groups, and their input could ensure that the new exam is fair to all immigrant groups. The article then describes that "the redesigned questions went through four months of testing at 10 agency offices that were chosen for their diversity and varying caseloads." This appears to be an impressive fact, indicating that the government has researched the effects of the new exam, but one side note is that the test was not introduced to any California agency offices. California is significant when discussing both immigration and citizenship issues because the state has the highest immigration rate in the nation; twenty-eight percent of the nation's immigrants, legal and illegal, are residing in California.
It seems almost nonsensical then, that California was not participating in the trials for the new citizenship test. Supporters of the revision, like Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the Office of Citizenship, stated that "94% of the volunteers passed the new test," whereas "84% pass the current test." These figures appear promising; the new exam may increase the chances of an applicant passing. Yet numbers are often distorted and unrepresentative, as 94% of those who passed the new test were from only ten out of the fifty-one states in the nation, while 84% of test takers nationwide passed the current exam.
In addition to the under-representation of immigrants from states like California, one of the problems with the future exam is the "recent increase in the citizenship application fee (now $675)." Now, not just the difficulty of the questions, but also the cost for applying may hinder immigrants from becoming naturalized. The increase in cost and difficulty consequently impacts immigrants who have less money or do not have a strong educational background. Fred Tsao, a policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees even says, "Mexicans, as a group, fall into that category" of underprivileged. He also noted that the new test "may block out people who are older or less well-educated." Many immigrants from Mexico apply for U.S. citizenship to get a chance at a better life, and the new test provides another obstacle for these immigrants to face. Therefore, this "new" and "improved" citizenship test singles out these less-advantaged minority groups, while promoting an agenda of building barriers against "undesirable" immigrants. This new exam, like immigration policy, favors educated or affluent immigrants, who are predominantly from Asian or Western European countries. Of the Asian immigrants that come to the U.S., forty-eight percent had a bachelor's degree, whereas only eleven percent of the immigrants from Latin America had a bachelor's degree. Even more startling is the fact that forty-seven percent of Latin American immigrants who come to the U.S. have no high school diploma, whereas only sixteen percent of Asian immigrants had no high school diploma. The discrepancies in education level will undeniably affect an immigrant's ability to comprehend and pass the citizenship test. What happens to the Mexican immigrants then is that more may resort to illegal means of entering the United States. As the image on the left illustrates, relations between President Bush and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico are civil now, but may grow tense in response to Bush's stringent citizenship and immigration laws.
The revamped citizenship exam, "intended to promote assimilation and patriotism," falls far from assimilation and instead, encourages exclusion. At stake is a core American value, equal opportunity, undermined by the implementation of the latest revision.