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Biden Admin Revamps Trump-Era Citizenship Test Citing Unnecessary Barriers To Naturalization

The Biden administration is discarding a Trump-era civics test that immigrants must pass to become American citizens, claiming the test, which was launched in December 2020, could create unnecessary barriers to naturalization.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Monday it is reverting to a 2008 version of the civics test, which the agency said was thoroughly developed during a multiyear period and piloted before its implementation. The reversal is part of a broad review of the naturalization process announced by President Biden last month “to eliminate barriers and make the process more accessible to all eligible individuals,” according to a statement by the agency.

Immigrants who filed their application for citizenship between Dec. 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021 will have the option to take either the 2020 civics test or the 2008 version. USCIS said the 2020 test will be phased out on April 19, 2021. Starting today, new applicants to become U.S. citizens will be required to pass a revised civics test that is longer and potentially more difficult than the previous version that had been in place for more than a decade.

The 2020 version of the civics test could impact an estimated 2.2 million green card holders in California who are eligible to naturalize, the most of any state. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes naturalization applications, doubled the length of the oral exam. USCIS officers will now ask citizenship candidates 20 out of 128 possible questions. Applicants must answer 12 questions correctly in order to pass.

In the previous version of the test, candidates were asked up to 10 out of 100 questions. Immigrants who filed their applications before Dec. 1 will continue to take that version. The agency said it revised the test to better assess an applicant’s required understanding of U.S. history and civics, and prepare them to participate in American democracy. The exam was last updated in 2008. “U.S. citizenship is the most significant immigration benefit our country offers,” said Sharon Rummery, a USCIS spokeswoman. “Preparing for the naturalization test helps aspiring citizens fully understand the meaning and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. This allows them to become successful, assimilated citizens who share the fundamental values that unite all Americans.”

But immigrant advocates denounced the revision as a last-ditch effort by the outgoing Trump administration to hinder immigrants’ ability to gain the benefits of American citizenship, including the right to vote in local, state and federal elections. “We think that it's a way to discourage people from applying for citizenship,” said Bethzy Garcia, who coordinates naturalization assistance at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA). "It’s a way to intimidate people. As it is, many of our applicants feel very anxious about going to the test.” Garcia said CHIRLA helps more than 1,000 people per year with the naturalization process, many of whom are older immigrants who may have limited English skills or trouble memorizing answers.

(This story originally appeared on PBS)

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