Trump’s New Citizenship Test Is Full of Conservative Bias—And Dotted With Mistakes

“December 1, 2020, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service began administering a new naturalization test to those hoping to become U.S. citizens. The test draws from 128 potential civics questions, with the approved answers posted on the USCIS website. The test is given orally, and all applicants for naturalization will have to answer 20 of those questions chosen at random, with a passing score of 12.

When the test was first released a few weeks ago, many critics focused on its needless difficulty and complexity. The previous iteration of the test, last revised in 2008, required applicants to answer six of 10 questions, drawn from a pool of only 100. Several new questions call for biographical details about Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Dwight Eisenhower, while another asks for “the purpose of the 10th Amendment.” Critics of the new test believe that it is intended to create an additional and unnecessary barrier to naturalization.

But perhaps the most significant feature of the test is its decidedly conservative political tilt, sometimes to the point of inaccuracy.

Certain questions, for example, reflect the Trump administration’s position in a case that is currently under Supreme Court review. Earlier this week, the court heard oral argument in a challenge to Trump’s unprecedented attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census count for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives. All nine justices seemed fairly skeptical of Trump’s plan, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett observing that “a lot of the historical evidence and longstanding practice really cuts against [Trump’s] position.” After all, the 14th Amendment provides that representatives be apportioned according to “the whole number of persons in each State,” which has always previously been thought to mean exactly what it says.

We are unlikely to get a definitive answer from SCOTUS any time soon. (It appears probable that a host of complex procedural issues will send the case back to the lower courts for further consideration.) But fiddling with the census was not the Trump administration’s only opportunity to change our understanding of representation by limiting it to U.S. citizens. Here are two questions on the new naturalization test, as well as the only approved answers from the USCIS study guide, now embodying the Trump administration’s revisionist approach to government:

31. Who does a U.S. senator represent?

· Citizens of their state

33. Who does a member of the House of Representatives represent?

· Citizens in their [congressional] district

The acceptable answers have been changed from the 2008 iteration of the test, which accurately (at least for now, unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise) stated that U.S. senators represent “all people of the state.””

“The most recent time the test was revised, the Bush administration posted an advance “pilot” of 144 proposed questions, many of which included errors, omissions and shortcomings. The 100 questions that made the final cut corrected most of the mistakes—after I pointed them out in an article for Salon, although I have no way of knowing whether I actually deserve any credit. The Trump administration created no similar opportunity for correction, instead publishing an overtly partisan test that is sometimes just plain wrong.

Successful applicants will have studied hard to obtain their cherished U.S. citizenship, and it is a shame for USCIS to mislead them so badly about the nature of the government to which they will soon pledge allegiance.”

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