Are You Smarter Than An Applicant For U.S. Citizenship?

Happy Independence Day! It’s the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate our country’s birth. Most Americans are too busy grilling or setting up fireworks displays to stop and think about the real meaning behind the holiday. Some citizens, however, are fully aware of the day’s meaning and rejoice that they can celebrate it as a citizen. In this category are newly naturalized citizens who may just be smarter than a native born citizen because they have had to pass a test to become a citizen.

Naturalization, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), is a way a person who was not born in the U.S. voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen.If you are born in this country, you don’t have a choice in the matter; you are automatically a U.S. citizen even if you don’t know squat about your home country. Naturalization extends to the new citizen the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as native born citizens have, including the right to vote. Unfortunately, for many citizens, having the right to vote and actually exercising that right are two different things.

Each year USCIS, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, welcomes approximately 680,000 citizens through naturalization. To no one’s surprise, Mexico is the country from which most new U.S. citizens come. And nearly half of all  new citizens live in three states–California, Florida, and New York. But these new citizens didn’t simply fill out some paperwork, pay a fee, and become citizens. Oh, no! The process is way more complicated than that.

In order to be naturalized, an individual has to meet certain basic requirements. He must, among other requirements, be 18 years or older, be a permanent resident of the U.S. (think green card) for five years, and be able to read, write, and speak basic English. In addition, and the kicker, the applicant must pass a test on U.S. history and government.

The civics test administered by USCIS isn’t a pop quiz and is not multiple choice. From a list of 100 set questions, an USCIS officer will randomly select ten questions which are read to the applicant in English. Six of the ten questions must be verbally answered correctly  in order to pass the test. Applicants are  aided in exam preparation by being given access to the list of the 100 questions (and answers!) for the exam. Apparently most applicants do study because in 2016, the overall pass rate for the civics test was 91%.

While applicants fare well on the test, native born citizens would likely fail if they took the test. In fact, a poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies found that 64% of American citizens would not pass this test. Yikes! How hard can the test be? Well, let’s take a look at some of the questions, and you can determine for yourself.

Of course applicants are expected to know something about the physical makeup of the country to which they desire to swear allegiance. Therefore, several geography questions are asked. Can you answer these select questions?

Name one of the two longest rivers in the United. [One answer is pretty  obvious, but I’ll bet not too many of us can name BOTH.] ANSWER: Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States? [You have to know your east from your west to answer this question.] ANSWER: Atlantic Ocean

Name one of the 13 states which border Canada. [Hint: If you are directionally challenged, Canada is our NORTHERN neighbor.] ANSWER: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Alaska

Name one of the 4 states which borders Mexico.  [A border wall may be coming to one of these locations…..] ANSWER: California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico

OK, geography may not be that difficult. How much American history do you remember? Try your hand at answering these questions.

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? [I love questions about authors!] ANSWER: Thomas Jefferson

Name three of the original 13 states. [I took Georgia History in the 8th grade and I am therefore positive of one of the answers.] ANSWER: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina

When was the Declaration of Independence signed? [If you miss this, you need to be hitting the history books rather than the beach or pool today.] ANSWER: July 4, 1776

Who was the U.S. President during World War I? [Remember, there were TWO world wars. World War I came first.] ANSWER: Woodrow Wilson

What countries did the U.S. fight in World War II? [Think of a World War II movie like “Tora, Tora, Tora” if you get stumped.] ANSWER: Germany, Italy, and Japan

In my opinion, the most difficult section of the citizenship test is the questions about the U.S government itself. Unless you live under a boulder (forget a rock), you should know who the country’s current president is and with which political party he is affiliated. Beyond that, the sample questions below might be a bit more challenging.

How many voting members are there of the House of Representatives? [It isn’t a math test, but you do need to know some numbers.] ANSWER: 435

Who is the current Speaker of the House? [HINT: She’s a she.] ANSWER: Nancy Pelosi

For how long do we elect senators to serve? [HINT: It isn’t lucky seven.] ANSWER: 6 years

How many Supreme Court justices are there? [HINT: If you read a recent blog of mine, you’d know the answer.] ANSWER: 9

Who becomes president if the president and the vice president cannot serve? [This is the person who’ll be running the country if Donald Trump and Mike Pence are both taken out.] ANSWER: The Speaker of the House (who, as we saw above, is currently Nancy Pelosi)

Who is now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? [You have one of nine justices from which to choose] ANSWER: John Roberts

How many amendments are there to the U.S. Constitution? [HINT: It has to be more than one since “amendments” is a plural word.] ANSWER: 27

How’d you do? Are you smarter than an applicant for U.S. citizenship? All 100 questions (with the correct answers) on the U.S. citizenship test can be found online. A fun thing to do on the Fourth would be to look at these 100 questions and see how much you know-or maybe don’t know. Be a responsible citizen on Independence Day and every other day of the year by being in the know about our country and how it is run. Light up the sky with fireworks today to celebrate the USA and light up your brain with knowledge about our country.


Do you think you have a good working knowledge of how our country’s government operates? If naturalized citizens must have the knowledge tested on the civics test, shouldn’t a natural born citizen know this information as well? Based on the questions above, is the civics test too hard? too easy?












Counting On Census Controversy

How high can you count? If you are an enumerator (fancy schmanzy way of saying census taker) you better be able to count into the multi-millions since the current U.S. population is estimated to be around 329,000,000. What enumerators may or may not be able to find out in the upcoming 2020 census is how many citizens and non-citizens dwell in the U.S. Yes, sir;  count on census controversy on that question.

A census is nothing new. Why the Romans took one back in Biblical times when Joseph and his pregnant fiancée, Mary, had to go to Bethlehem for a head count. Unfortunately, the gospels provide no information about what questions the Roman enumerators asked. Perhaps it was a hot-button topic  whether the occupying Romans could ask if someone was a Roman citizen.

Flash forward to more modern times. Census taking was conducted in this country prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution itself recognized the need for a population count because the legislative framework called for was congressional districts based on the number of people in an area. Article 1, Section 2 called for an “Enumeration” (read “census”) every ten years; therefore, a decennial census is constitutionally mandated.

Of key importance is that the word “citizen” is not used when the Constitution refers to the enumeration of people for determining congressional districts. The U.S. Census is a population census aiming to get a bottom line tally of the actual number of people living in this country. But while all residents are people, not all residents are citizens. This distinction is where the controversy arises.

The Census Bureau, which falls under the Commerce Department, is gearing up for the 2020 census. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has proposed adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census: “Is this person a citizen of the U.S.?”. This question, the last one to be asked on the census form, will ask all those living in the United States if they are citizens.

While the question may appear to be simple, the possible answers are not simply “yes” or “no.” One of five possible answers can be selected. One is negative, i.e., not a citizen. The four “yes” answers determine if the citizen was:

  1. born in the USA (a great song title, don’t you think?);
  2. born in a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.;
  3. born abroad to a U.S. parent or parents; or
  4. naturalized to become a citizen.

Is anyone shocked that a government form would not have merely a “yes” or “no” response? I’m not.

A firestorm of controversy has erupted over this eight word question. And when I say firestorm, I mean lawsuits, (more) political bickering, and congressional inquiries. Court cases seeking to block the asking of .this citizenship question allege Commerce Secretary Ross intended to discriminate against minorities by adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Is asking if a person is a citizen such a radical question? Well, not historically. A citizenship question was included in each U.S. census from 1890 to 1950. The question initially began to be asked during a time of high immigration to the U.S.. Moreover, the question has appeared on every American Community Survey since 2005. In addition, other countries such as Canada, Spain, and Germany ask a citizenship question on their version of a census.

Opponents of the citizenship question’s inclusion on the census argue that those who are in this country illegally would hesitate to participate in the census for fear the information given might be used against them. While this argument seems superficially appealing, it doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. In the first place, the question asked is only if one is a citizen. It does not ask if a citizen is in the country legally. The “no” answer merely means that one is not a citizen. There are any number of individuals who are in this country as non-citizen legal residents (think green card) or long-term visitors.

In addition, who will use this information against the illegal immigrants? The information gathered in a census is confidential. It is illegal to share a census response with law enforcement or immigration agencies. Courts have upheld that no agency, including the FBI, has access to census data. (That’s legal access, of course.) Moreover, the so-called “72 Year Rule” (Public Law 95-416) provides that the government cannot release personally identifiable information about an individual to any other agency of individual for 72 years after it is collected for the census. Seventy-two years from now any illegal immigrant responding to the 2020 Census could be dead or perhaps have obtained citizenship by then..

Why is an accurate population count so crucial? The census figures are used for the distribution of federal funds and to draw state and congressional legislative districts. California’s attorney general opposed the proposed question noting that if the immigrant population is undercounted, then the census would be an incomplete count.  With an estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, an undercount could have a significant impact on states with large immigrant populations. California would be one of those states, hence the Golden State’s interest in the issue.

To date three federal judges (in New York, California, and Maryland) have ruled to block the administration’s plans to include the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The addition of the question was challenged not only as discriminating against minorities but also for being added in violation of administrative law procedures. I don’t know for sure, but I speculate that the administrative procedures are as clear and easy to understand as tax laws and procedures.

Enter the Supremes! The Commerce Department sought, and was granted, an expedited appeal by the highest court in the land. Oral arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in April, and a decision is expected to be rendered by late June. Time is a factor here as the Census Bureau is facing a June 30th deadline to finalize the census questionnaire for printing.

With a Supreme Court decision looming, it means those on both sides of the issue are counting right now, and it isn’t residents or even citizens who are being counted. Opponents and proponents of the citizenship question are counting the possible votes on the Court based on how the oral arguments went and the track records of the justices. They are also counting down the days until a decision is reached. No matter what decision is rendered by the Supreme Court, you can count on one thing. The issue will remain controversial to citizens and non-citizens alike regardless of how the Supremes rule.

Just WONDER-ing:

Should the government have the right to ask those living in the country whether or not they are citizens? Is the historical use of a citizenship question in past censuses and surveys relevant to the use of such a question in our country today? How accurate is any census no matter what is asked?