‘How I passed my U.S. citizenship test’

Dafna Linzer passed her U.S. citizenship test, but some of the official right answers were wrong, she writes on ProPublica.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president’s Cabinet. Among the correct answers is “Vice President.” The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he’s not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments [4], such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

Question 12 asks: What is the “rule of law”?

There are four acceptable answers: “Everyone must follow the law”; “Leaders must obey the law”; “Government must obey the law”; “No one is above the law.”

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services introduced a new test, which covers history and civics, in 2008. Applicants must answer correctly six of 10 randomly selected questions (from a list of 100). They also must pass a simple reading and writing test to show English proficiency.

Question 55 “tugged at my heart,” Linzer writes: What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy? Among the correct answers: “write to a newspaper.”

At my interview, I was asked questions on presidential succession, the Cabinet, Senate terms, and the Supreme Court. I was asked to name a branch of government. (I went with the executive.)

I was asked Question 8: What did the Declaration of Independence do?

Heeding my lawyer’s advice, I went with the official answer: “declared our independence.”

A native Canadian, she read aloud: “Columbus Day is in October.” The same sentence comprised the writing test. She passed.

She affirmed that she is not a Communist, a terrorist or a member of a totalitarian party.

Although I was born in 1970, I was asked: Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did I work for or associate in any way with the Nazi government of Germany? Had I worked at a concentration camp?

She passed that one too.

On Friday, Jan. 28, accompanied by my family, I was among 160 citizens-in-waiting who filed into a 3rd floor auditorium in lower Manhattan to be sworn in as Americans. On our seats were an American flag, a copy of the Constitution, a booklet featuring the stories of prominent naturalized Americans, and a welcome letter from President Obama.

Reading the letter, I began to cry. I had spent more than one-quarter of my life hoping to become American, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the honor and the significance of the moment. The place I have called home for 12 years was finally claiming me as well.

I looked around the room and saw other fortunate souls with long journeys now behind them, quietly weeping with joy.

Great Aunt Lillian, also born in Canada, came to the U.S. as a young girl.  She delayed applying for U.S. citizenship because the courthouse in Winkler, Manitoba had burned down, destroying all the birth records. After 50 or so years in the U.S., Lillian wrote to Winkler, sorted out the missing birth certificate and applied for citizenship.  The examiner asked one question: “When was the Louisiana Purchase?”

“Oh, that was a long time ago,” Lillian said.

“That’s right!” said the examiner.

And so Great Aunt Lillian became an American.