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Mixed reactions to new questions on citizenship test
Las Vegas Sun


December 09, 2006

Quick. Name one of the authors of the Federalist papers.

OK, now that you've answered that one, let's move on.

Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence.

These are examples of new questions that may appear on the U.S. citizenship test as a result of its first overhaul in 20 years.




The questions, designed to "encourage civic learning and patriotism," were announced recently by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They provoked mixed reactions.

Larry Luna, a teacher with the Citizenship Project, a nonprofit organization that prepares people to take the test, took issue with the vocabulary in some of the questions and the concepts in others.

Luna pointed to question No. 111:

What did the abolitionists try to end before the Civil War?

"Those are concepts that are not familiar to them," said Luna, who has shepherded some 2,000 immigrants from 80 countries into citizenship in the last five years.

Of the question on the Federalist papers, he wondered: "I don't know why they would put that in."

The federal agency will be testing 144 questions on 5,000 volunteers in 10 cities around the nation in coming months. Officials will pick 100 questions for the new test. Like now, an official will choose 10 questions each time an applicant takes the test.

Marie Sebrechts, spokeswoman for the citizenship agency, estimated 8 million people may be eligible to become citizens but haven't applied.

Pilar Weiss, political director of the Culinary Union and a board member of the project, said she met with federal immigration officials in August to gather input on the pending changes.

She praised the federal government's "pure intentions ... in its efforts to make the test more meaningful."

At the same time, she said, "the test shouldn't be a barrier. It should be a measurement and motivation for people to become a citizen and be civically involved."

Weiss said the questions being considered might pose a problem and not just for the immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens.

"I'm sure most of us would admit we couldn't pass the test without studying quite a bit," she said.

Carlos Luna - no relation to Larry - was sworn in as a citizen in May. The pediatric cardiologist from Colombia saw studying for the test as an opportunity to immerse himself in U.S. history and government, but said he also knows many simply memorized the questions and answers.

"The same thing could happen with these questions," he pointed out.

After looking at the 144 questions being considered for the new test, he noted several questions that may have correct answers beyond those listed by the federal government.

An example: Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for.

The four possible answers listed on the USCIS Web site don't include what first came to Luna's mind: the image from his elementary school days in Cali, Colombia, of Franklin's kite and lightning rod.

Larry Luna, after teaching thousands of future citizens, said many of the questions were "a little off-base."

"It's necessary for them to know what the duties and responsibilities of a citizen are," he said.

Luna said about 95 percent of his students currently pass the test.

How does he know?

"They call or come by immediately and tell me. They're always so happy."


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