47:5 Creating New Americans: The Essence of Americanism Under the Citizenship Test

Article

Abstract

An average of one million people receives U.S. naturalization annually. Understanding the nature of U.S. citizenship—or more particularly, the gatekeepers of U.S. citizenship—is thus crucial. One of these gatekeepers has recently been reconstructed following several years of redesign. In 2008, the U.S. Government introduced a new citizenship test that professes to focus on the substantive understanding of fundamental concepts of U.S. history and civics rather than memorization of random trivia, as was tested by the old citizenship test.

This Article is the first to analyze the normative aspects associated with the new U.S. citizenship test and seeks to challenge the test’s purpose, subject matter, format, ideology, and justification. It opines that the test has failed to achieve the main goal of the redesign process: to create a more meaningful test. While the test creates “summa cum laude immigrants” in U.S. history and civics, their understanding is still fleeting. It requires new Americans to memorize esoteric issues, such as the location of the Statue of Liberty, while ignoring the understanding of important ideas, such as liberty and equal protection.

The manner new Americans are “created” is a political decision. The choices made today are likely to influence society tomorrow. The citizenship test is a great platform to examine these choices. This Article calls for a complete reassessment of the concept of citizenship tests.