The Cost of Immigration: Part Three

By: Sarah Platt Email
By: Sarah Platt Email

In order to become a U.S. citizen, there are many tests to pass and fees to pay. Another cost of immigration is learning some basics of American history and the U.S. government. Before a person can become a naturalized citizen, they must pass a civics test. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services oversees the exam. We took to the streets of South Bend, to put some local citizens to the test.

"Who said ‘give me liberty or give me death?’" "Who is the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?’" Answers to these questions make up some of the founding principles and people of America, a land where millions still have dreams to become a citizen.

“I know being born and raised here that we're very fortunate in many ways and seeing them come over here, realize we're very fortunate,” says Ann Oliva. Her husband, Juan Oliva, just became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Juan is from Mexico.

Newscenter 16 hit the streets to see how some natural born Americans might fare on some of the questions. Some quickly gave us the right answers.

"Who is the secretary of state?” we ask. “Condoleeza Rice,” says Valerie Speciale. “Yep, correct."

"How many stripes are there on the U.S. flag?” we ask. “Thirteen," says Ashley Lauderdale.

“What did the stripes on the flag represent?” we ask. “Thirteen original colonies,” answers Lloyd Dubois.

On other questions, right answers didn't come as easily.

"Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” we ask. “I don't know,” says Raul Torres.

"Do you know the current Attorney General? We ask. “No," says Laurie Bryant.

“Can you name three of the thirteen original states?” we ask. “I don’t know says Ashley Lauderdale.

Meantime, others simply didn't want to try their luck on test questions, especially on camera!

Each year, about 700-thousand people become new U.S. citizens. After several years of paperwork, waiting, fees, and background checks, one of the final steps is taking a civics test.
Immigrants get 100 sample test questions to study. On exam day, they're asked 10. They must get at least 6 correct to pass.

“I definitely believe that they realize probably more so, importance of being naturalized citizens, being a citizen of the U.S., says Kenneth Weir, Adjudications Officer with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

For the past 10 years, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been looking at changing its test. The department is currently piloting a new exam in several states. The new test is less trivia or memorization, focusing more on the rights and responsibilities of becoming an American.

“Voting rights, for example, the new question would be, “There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote, describe one of them?" says Marilu Cabrera, Media spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship. “As the test exists right now, it's really just memorization, realize a lot of the questions are trivial and that people probably forget.” Cabrera says the pilot test questions will replace the current questions sometime in 2008.

Meantime, folks here in South Bend had mixed thoughts on the current questions. “I don't think they were hard. I think it's something U.S. citizens should be aware of, but it's hard to remember all those exact details when you don't think about them, or when you're not being made to study or take the test,” says Marcia Brown.

"I think I need to study, it's been a long time since I've had any kind of history or constitution," says Valerie Speciale.

"They were easier than I thought,” says Jon Obenchain.

Either way you look at it, most folks say brushing up on their American history is worthwhile, giving them an extra appreciation of the struggle our ancestors made and many people continue to make today.

“I think it's extremely important because the U.S. stands for something as a country. And if someone wants to be a citizen here, they should know what we stand for,” says Brown.

You might be curious as to how well you'd do on the U.S. Citizenship test? To take a sample test, click at the link below.

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