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New Civics Test is Last-Minute Effort from Trump Administration to Cut Off Access to Citizenship

Immigrant rights groups call for immigrants to apply for citizenship as soon as possible, and for incoming Biden administration to reverse course on test and USCIS


WASHINGTON – As the Trump administration nears its final days, it is leaving as it arrived: by limiting access to citizenship through a series of policies and practices that make it more difficult for millions of eligible immigrants to navigate the long naturalization process.

Last Friday, the Trump administration announced that it was changing the civics test for lawful permanent residents applying for citizenship. The adjustments, which were made without community input, heighten the testing standards, change the answers to some of the previous questions, and ultimately will exclude eligible immigrants from accessing citizenship based on arbitrary and irrational changes that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has failed to justify. 

“We urge all immigrants with green cards to consider applying for citizenship before Dec. 1 if possible, when the Trump administration will begin using a new test that makes it more difficult for community members with limited English proficiency to pass,” said Nicole Melaku, executive director of the NatIonal Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). “At the same time, we urge the incoming Biden administration to return to the current test as part of a larger agenda dedicated to expanding access to citizenship, and facilitating rather than blocking that path.”

The test is seen by advocates as another “second wall” barrier from the Trump administration, preventing millions of immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. Questions from the old test have been revised so that the phrasing and answers are more difficult to understand and answer for applicants with limited English proficiency. Whereas the current test includes a question asking who a United States Senator represents, with the correct answer being “Everyone in their state”, the revised test changes the correct answer to, “Citizens in their state” – a language adjustment that is seen to disadvantage non-native English speakers. 

“The outrageous new test is a last-minute effort to cut off more of our family, loved ones, and community members who already struggle enough to go through the long process of obtaining citizenship,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, the largest mid-Atlantic immigrant advocacy organization, working in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. “Immigrant and refugee communities must continue on the path to citizenship and to accomplish that, the incoming Biden administration must reverse course on USCIS as an enforcement agency,” continued Torres.

The new test will be applied to everyone who applies for citizenship on Dec. 1, 2020 and onwards.On Nov. 18, USCIS also announced that it was updating its policy manual advising agency adjudicators to scrutinize citizenship applicants about how they obtained lawful permanent residency, indicating that the agency is rushing to push through multiple changes before the Trump administration exits on Jan. 20, 2021.