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How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test: By Keeping the Right Answers to Myself

I recently became a U.S. citizen, and found mistakes in the citizenship test. 

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ProPublica senior reporter Dafna Linzer at her swearing-in ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Gellman)

This story was co-published with Slate.

Last month, I became an American citizen, a tremendous honor and no easy accomplishment, even for a Canadian. After living here for 12 years, I thought I knew everything. Then I learned how we mint Americans.

After years of steep filing fees and paperwork (including one letter from Homeland Security claiming that my fingerprints had "expired"), it all came down to a test. I passed, and, my fellow Americans, you could, too -- if you don't mind providing answers that you know are wrong.

Friends told me I didn't need to study, the questions weren't that hard. But I wanted to and so for months I lugged around a set of government-issued flashcards, hoping to master the test. I pestered my family and friends to quiz me. Sometimes I quizzed my sources. I learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution) and they learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution). But then we began noticing errors in a number of the questions and answers.

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, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: "The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office." Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House's own website lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It's still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up.

In fact, the Constitution aligns the vice president more closely with the legislative branch as president of the Senate. Not until well into the 20th century did the vice president even attend Cabinet meetings.

Then there is Question 12: What is the "rule of law"?

I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.

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."

So, where do these questions come from?

The 160 newly minted Americans at the swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 28. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Gellman)U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a department within Homeland Security, spent six years consulting scholars, educators, and historians before the current test was introduced in 2008. The result: 100 questions and answers designed to provide an in-depth treatment of U.S. history and government.

"The goal of the naturalization test is to ensure America's newest citizens have mastered a basic knowledge of U.S. history and have a solid foundation to continue to expand their understanding as they embark on life as U.S. citizens," said Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS.

During the citizenship interview, applicants are asked a randomly selected 10 questions from the test and must answer six correctly. In addition to the questions, there is a reading and writing test for English proficiency.

My immigration lawyer accompanied me to my interview. In the security line, I told her I was bothered by Question 16: Who makes the federal laws?

Each of the three possible answers, it seemed, was incomplete. The official answers were: "Congress"; "Senate and House (of representatives)"; "(U.S. or national) legislature." I'm not a lawyer but even Canadians watched Schoolhouse Rock. Where, I wondered, was the president, whose signature is what makes a bill into a law?

My lawyer sighed, she agreed. But: "If you get asked that question, just give the official answer," she said. I didn't get that question.

I also wasn't asked Question 1: "What is the supreme law of the land?"

The official answer: "the Constitution." A friend and legal scholar was aghast. That answer, he said, is "no more than one-third correct." He's right.

Article VI, clause 2 in the Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, explicitly says that three things -- the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties -- together "shall be the supreme law of the land."

Question 96 asks: Why does the flag have 13 stripes? The official answer: "because there were 13 original colonies." In fact, the flag has 13 stripes for the 13 original states.

Many of the test questions, organized under topics such as "system of government," "geography," and "American history" are correct and informative. Since I'm a reporter, one tugged at my heart.

Question 55 asks: 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."

I answered six consecutive questions correctly and moved on to the language section of the exam. Native English speakers are not exempt from this section and I was asked to read aloud the following sentence: "Columbus Day is in October."

I was then asked to write a sentence in English. Remarkably, it was the same sentence: "Columbus Day is in October."

Next, I reaffirmed answers I had given on my citizenship application.

Was I a member of the Communist Party? Was I member of a totalitarian party? Am I a terrorist? 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?

The officer who interviewed me, Sandy Saint Louis, had to ask me the questions. But she didn't even look up or wait for my responses. She checked off "No" after each one.

She did pay attention when she asked whether I was a habitual drunkard, a polygamist, a drug-smuggler, a felon, a tax-evader.

My paperwork was in order, my background check was complete. When the interview was over, Saint Louis pressed a large wooden seal into a red ink pad and stamped "approved" across my application. A wave of relief washed over me and my lawyer shot me a sweet smile. Ten days later, when I returned for the swearing-in, a brief and final questionnaire asked if I had engaged in prostitution since the interview. I checked "No."

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.

An immigration official asked us all to stand, and to remain standing, when the name of our country of origin was called out. After he read through the names of 44 countries, we were all standing, waving our flags.

Together, we took the Oath of Allegiance and were then seated as citizens of one nation.

Everyone in the room that day had scored a perfect 100 percent on the test and, for fun, an official decided to test us all once more. Who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner"? he asked. Only a few called out "Francis Scott Key," perhaps because that question is no longer on the test. It was prominently removed four years ago.

The video message from President Barack Obama showed at every swearing-in ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Gellman)A newly sworn-in citizen led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. We sang the national anthem and then watched a video message from the president shown at every swearing-in ceremony across the country.

"It's an honor and a privilege to call you a fellow citizen of the United States of America," Obama told us. "This is now officially your country."

There were more tears. At the end of the hour, we received certificates of naturalization and were given instructions on how to obtain U.S. passports.

My family and I left soon afterward. It was 10:30 a.m. and cold outside. We took the subway uptown. Three children got off at three different stops, headed to their schools or the library. We took the youngest up to his school. He walked in clutching his American flag and announced proudly to his teachers that "Mommy is American."

At a party that evening, I displayed the letter from Obama and laid out the flashcards. Over Sam Adams beer and mini-burgers, I spoke about the ceremony and test. The host led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance, my second of the day. Looking around the room, I realized that a significant number of my friends are journalists, writers, academics, and lawyers. It's a nitpicky crowd and during three hours of celebration they noticed additional errors in the questions.

At the end of the night, one of the catering staff gathered up the flash cards and as she held them out to me, she revealed that next month she too will take her citizenship test. I was thrilled. I closed my first day as an American citizen by handing them over to her. "Which ones did you say were wrong again?" she asked. "Just give the official answer," I said, "and you'll do fine."

You can follow Dafna at @dafnalinzer.

Thanks for choosing us even though we have issues

DR D A HANSON`

Feb. 23, 2011, 5:09 p.m.

Congratulations to you, Dafna and welcome to the grand ‘melting pot’ of immigrants in this country. My grandparents were from Sweden and Ukrania, and I am a 2nd-born-generation American. The work of being a citizen is ahead of you, so welcome to the work of staying the path of democracy and keeping our elected officials on that path as well. Again ... many Congratulations!

John Mulkey

Feb. 23, 2011, 6 p.m.

Congratulations for passing the test and for “questioning” some of the answers.  You’ll have to forgive us for providing bad information. Those who wrote the test came out of the U.S. educational system—not something of which we’re very proud.

Congratulations Dafna. It seems to be built into the DNA of this country that precision and accuracy is only necessary when it is necessary, as decided by those who care the least. I started college as a business major and changed majors after my first course in econmics. The book, and the professor, were way off on how our economic system works. If Milton Friedman is an economist, then I’m the Pope. The book was the most used textbook on econmics in the country. Life in America.

You can’t be a communist? How very 1950s!

John Chamberlain

Feb. 23, 2011, 6:35 p.m.

We became citizens in 1998 = the questions appear to have varied since then.  I was asked “From whom did we get our independence”.  As I recall I said that since we were in Connecticut I would have to say England, but if we were in California, I’d have to say Mexico.  I passed the test nonetheless.

I found that the attitude of the INS as it then was became much more supportive and friendly when applying for citizenship than when we were seeking permanent resident status.  It was never inappropriate, but reminded me that they recognized that I was seeking a different sort of benefit this time.

When we were sworn in, the Judge told us that if this is not the greatest country in the world we have only ourselves to blame.  She was, of course, overruled in Bush v. Gore.

James Wiegert

Feb. 23, 2011, 6:51 p.m.

Dear Dafna,

Since you’ve wanted to become an American citizen for so long and have succeeded in doing so: Congratulations! But, why would you want to become an American citizen? What is there about the United States of America that’s so different and, presumably, better than Canada that would make you want to apply for American citizenship?

Sincerely,
James Wiegert

Congratulations on earning citizenship, but, except for the question on the VP being in the Cabinet, you are incorrect about mistakes in the citizenship test. 
Re the “rule of law” question, the test answers are correct. Read up on legal philosophy and, for example, the dilemma posed by Hobbes’ observation that a sovereign cannot be sovereign and also be subject to the rule of law by others, and the attempt of other philosophers and the founders of our country to address that dilemma through separation of the sovereign power so that government itself would be subject to the rule of law.
Re “who makes federal laws” it is Congress, period. The President’s signature controls the effective date – the law becomes effective in ten days unless the President signs earlier. The President also can prevent a law from becoming effective by vetoing it or by inaction in certain circumstances (pocket veto). The Pres can create creation of law by the legislative branch but cannot make law.
Re the Supreme Law of the Land, it is the Constitution. You are correct that the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution refers to federal law and treaties, but it refers to federal laws made pursuant to the Constitution, and the power to make treaties is given by the Constitution. It is fundamental to the philosophy of the founders that all power of government derives from the Constitution. If a federal law or any other source of law conflicts with the Constitution, a court can declare it invalid. The Constitution is THE Supreme Law of the Land.
Re the 13 stripes question, the 13 stripes do represent the original 13 colonies. The “Grand Union” flag hoisted by Washington and the Continental Army on January 1, 1776, during the siege of Boston had 13 stripes with the Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner. In May of 1776, Betsy Ross claimed to have sewed the first American flag. On July 4, 1776, the colonies declared Independence and asserted that they were no longer colonies but independent and sovereign states. In June of 1777, in the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, adopting a flag of the (yet to be formally constituted) “United States” that retained the 13 stripes from the original Grand Union flag but substituting for the Union Jack emblem 13 stars on a blue field. The Articles of Confederation were sent to the colonies for ratification in November of 1777 and ratification was complete in 1781, creating the United States of America.

Failed to proofread - the president can obstruct creation of laws, not create creation of laws…

Spencer Greene

Feb. 23, 2011, 8:09 p.m.

It’s pretty amusing to read some of the questions they ask you like “have you engaged in prostitution”.

But I think they might actually serve a purpose.  I’m sure most prostitutes or “habitual drunkards” would lie and check “no” ... but, this provides the US government a way to revoke citizenship if, down the road, it turns out that you lied.

To my knowledge this has mostly been used to kick out ex-Nazis (which is why they probably still ask that question even though I doubt they have very many 80-something Europeans applying for citizenship at this point).  But, this would have given them a legal reason to revoke Anna Chapman’s citizenship when it came out that she was a Russian spy.  I also seem to recall that the US has tried revoking the citizenship of Rwandans or Serbians discovered after the fact to be war criminals, because they lied on their citizenship application.  And while there aren’t too many Canadian war criminals she could theoretically be a wanted felon over there, or someone who hasn’t been paying her American taxes during the permanent residency years.

I’m speaking in completely hypothetical terms of course.  Congrats on becoming an American!  I’m glad to see the ceremony was so moving for you and your fellow new citizens.  It shows that, for all America’s flaws and the beating (rightly and wrongly) we sometimes take in the world media, it still is something of incredible value to call yourself an American.  And have fun on jury duty :) .

I took my citizenship test in the Summer of 1974. The trickiest question was: Who is the President of the United States. I was tempted to ask the gentleman who was testing me to turn the radio on, so we can both find out…..

Morgan Getham

Feb. 23, 2011, 8:48 p.m.

Actually, Francis Scott Key wrote the WORDS to The Star Spangled Banner.  The MELODY was actually a bawdy English drinking song of the time called “To Anacreon in Heaven”.

Rene Astudillo

Feb. 23, 2011, 9:31 p.m.

I took and passed my citizenship test last December ( and became a citizen in January).  I was hoping one of the 10 questions would be “Who is the governor of your state?” I was prepared to answer “Arnold for now, but it’ll be Jerry next month.” I wasn’t asked that question, but I answered correctly that the Ocean on the East Coast of the United States was the Atlantic Ocean :-)

James:
Presumably, her children and husband, family, friends, home, and livelihood are in the United States, not Canada.  At the very LEAST, becoming a citizen ensures that bureaucratic SNAFUs can’t forcibly remove her from the life she’s built in the US.  Not to mention finding a place that you love, being proud of the country you call home, etc etc.  Also, it’s not like American naturalization requires renouncing other citizenships anymore.  She can proudly carry both!

Dafna:
Congratulations!  Welcome home!

Much love,
Nancy

Steven J. Scannell

Feb. 24, 2011, 1:28 a.m.

Welcome to the USA, and Thanks for the Canadian Goose.

It’s odd that there would be errors on the test (you’d think that’d be the one of the few documents we’d strive to get right), but: Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your story (the part about your son announcing your accomplishment made me choke up a little!).

Also, thank you for reinforcing our democracy with your choice of profession - you play a vital role in sustaining your new home!

S.

Thanks for an interesting article. I’m happy for you, but at the same time I realize that I will likely never become an American citizen, even if I were to settle and make a career there (I’m a software developer, so the US does have some pull, careerwise). As long as the Oath and Pledge of Allegiance include wordings about god, I could not say them honestly, no matter what other feelings of allegiance I might have felt towards the country. I must say that I feel very lucky to live in Sweden where my lawful freedom of religion is actually respected.

On a sidenote: Wonderfully weird that so many of the comments says something along the lines of “welcome to your new home” or “welcome to the melting pot of immigrants”. What part of “After living here for 12 years” didn’t you understand?

Scott Griffith

Feb. 24, 2011, 6:42 a.m.

Intriguing that as a Canadian you had to become a US citizen in order to be an American.  I thought that as a Canadian you already were an American, just as was anyone in Mexico or Cuba or Chile or anywhere else in the hemisphere.

Congrats my fellow American!!  Welcome to the family!!

I became a citizen a 6 years ago almost. I did the test in ST Louis too.


I studied the official answers. I had lived in the states for more than 10 years and served 4 years in the US Army.

fyi…about 20,000 US Army Soldiers are not citizens but just residents. You can serve 9 years as a resident.

Dafna your story reminds me of a construction company I once owned, the “Good Enough Construction Company.” Our motto; “When the best isn’t necessary, it’s good enough!” Welcome to our imperfect union.

Spencer Greene

Feb. 24, 2011, 9:35 a.m.

@Adrian ... the Oath of Allegiance does contain the phrase “under God”, however US Code says that phrase can be omitted if people want.  And I’m guessing that anyone could simply choose to not say “under God” when they do the Pledge of Allegiance, since that’s just part of the ceremony and not something you legally have to do in order to become a Citizen.

On a side note, about 5 years ago the US government debated revising the Oath of Allegiance (which right now has lots of ridiculously antiquated language, to read as follows:

Solemnly, freely, and without mental reservation, I hereby renounce under oath all allegiance to any foreign state. My fidelity and allegiance from this day forward is to the United States of America. I pledge to support, honor, and be loyal to the United States, its Constitution, and its laws. Where and if lawfully required, I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant, or civilian service. This I do solemnly swear, so help me God.

But the proposal never went anywhere.

@ Scott Griffith - yes, theoretically Canadians are “Americans” too since they live in North America ... but what else should we call citizens of the USA?  United Statesians?  Gringos?  I fail to see anything even the slightest bit offensive or wrong by calling residents of the USA “Americans” and calling residents of other North/South American countries “Canadians”, “Brazilians”, “Costa Ricans”, etc.

Dafna,
I’m trying to get around to filling out my wife’s citizenship application for her, as a favor. She’s Canadian. The most onerous part, and the reason I haven’t completed it yet? “List every time you have left the United States in the past 10 years.” Holy cow. How did you deal with this?

Don’t get me wrong, I can sit down with a calendar and make a pretty good accounting… But I’m certain there will be a mistake or an omission. We’ve probably been back to Canada 30-40 times. Did your lawyer give you any advice on this and/or talk about whether it’s okay to just “do your best”?

Chaz:
I sat down with a calendar and listed every single trip I took, just as they require. It is a lot of work but the pay-off, of course, is significant. Good luck to your wife!

Mike Wilson says that Betsy Ross claimed to have made the first US flag. I do not think so.  Many years later, her nephew claimed this was so.  If you contact the National Archives in DC , you will learn that there is no proof that Betsy Ross made the first US flag.. This story is just an American folktale.

Wilson Dizard

Feb. 24, 2011, 1:44 p.m.

Note to Canadians and others who take the US naturalization test: life here requires you to state that you believe that certain known falsehoods are true.

That doesn’t make them true, and you’re not required to believe those falsehoods.

This process is good preparation for, among other possible activities here in the US, parenthood.

If you can pass the naturalization test, you’ll do fine during your explanations of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy to your three-year-old.

Better dead than Red!
:D

Scott Griffith

Feb. 24, 2011, 2:34 p.m.

@Spencer Greene, I’ve a friend who provacatively calls us/them USAnians.  What I usually use in speech and in writing is ‘US Americans’ (as opposed to Canadian Americans, or Haitian Americans and so on).  I tried to avoid suggesting that anyone was offended, however the notion seems to have leaked through between the lines.  I’ve met many who profess to be offended, and others who aren’t. My idea was that it might be a thought for those US Americans who’ve never thought about it to consider.

Wilson Dizard

Feb. 24, 2011, 3:25 p.m.

Hi @Spencer Greene:

Your question touches on the debate as to whether the US, Canada, and other countries with large numbers of recent immigrants, including France, should adopt policies that preserve the distinctions between the various immigrants’ national identities or reforge them in a new, unified identity.

Canada’s history provides the answer: excessive, politically-inspired preferences for national minorities erode the legitimacy of the state.

If France created a special department for its Algerian immigrant community, where Algerian customs including the various languages spoken in the former French colony were preserved via subsidies for special Bedouin schools and a requirement that public officials speak Arabic, what would happen to l’etat’s legitimacy?

It would erode.

So nationalism is a double-edged sword. It can be a form of freedom of cultural expression, as when Martin Luther virtually invented the modern German language in the process of translating the Bible, or when the Hebrew language was revived via scholarship and daily use from its 19th century desuetude.

Or it can be a pretext for horrific bloodshed, as recently in the former Yugoslavian republics, in Chechnya, or all across Europe in the 20th century’s two ghastly wars.

Some people express nostalgia from the much-hated and long gone empires of old, including the Holy Roman Empire, where Latin was a universal language, and the Austro-Hungarian empire, where officials from many national groups wrote and spoke in German.

Those issues are just as lively nowadays, where for example the fractious nations of Central Europe bicker over how to punctuate the family names of their citizens in one another’s national languages.

Part of the question is this: are you willing to expose yourself and your children to the risk of military conscription to preserve your freedom to debate these issues ad nauseam?

Apparently so, in your case. Welcome to the US.

Best, Wilson

I have to disagree on the Vice President portion. The Vice President was at one time an elected official (2nd place in voting became VP) but now the VP is effectively appointed by the president even prior to becoming president.

The VP is elected in the loosest sense of the terms, in that the ballot usually lists them together, but if you can’t vote for them seperatley i see it as the first appointment of their cabinet creation.

Thanks goodness you only have to go ten days without engaging in prostitution! Are you sure there wasn’t a food stamp application and a voter’s registration application on the chairs as well?

Re: 13 states vs. 13 colonies.  Although most of the original states *were* colonies, one of them—Delaware—was not.  It was rather the “three lower counties on the Delaware river”, that were loosely linked to Pennsylvania—a link that was not broken until 1776.  So Ms. Linzer is correct—there never were “thirteen colonies”.  Add to that the fact that, prior to the Revolution, there was no corporate identity to the colonies that later became the United States—they were all British colonies in North America, of course, but then so were New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and other colonies and territories that later became part of Canada.  The number 13 had no special significance until the revolution was well under way; for a long time it was uncertain how many colonies would take part in the rebellion.  It was not until the Second Continental Congress had been meeting for some weeks that the total number of delegations represented even reached thirteen (July 1775).

The United States flag itself was not legally created until June 1777, by which time all the colonies had become independent states.

I agree that the question regarding the meaning of the rule of law is too vague and there are countless responses beyond those approved by the USCIS that could be acceptable. 

However, the rest of your post contains multiple glaring errors. 

Regarding the Vice President and the Cabinet, the Constitution does not say who are members of the Cabinets and who are not members of the Cabinet.  The designation of Cabinet status is, by tradition, within the power of the President. 

There are two ways for a bill to become law without a presidential signature.  Congress can override a presidential veto and the bill will become law over the opposition of the President.  In addition, if the President neither signs nor vetoes the bill it will become law after ten days (unless Congress has gone on a recess in the interim). 

Also, you were wrong to write that a video message “from the president [is[ shown at every swearing-in ceremony across the country.”  This is true only for ceremonies run by the USCIS.  Just for your information, some ceremonies are run by federal judges not the USCIS.  By law a federal district court can choose to have exclusive authority on naturalization ceremonies within that district.  When it does the USCIS cannot swear people in.  For example, just across in the river in Brooklyn, the federal district court elected to have exclusive jurisdiction and if you live in Brooklyn or Staten Island you will to be sworn in in court.  Also, an applicant can choose to be sworn in by a federal judge.  When a federal judge runs the ceremony, the presidential statement is not shown (separation of powers issues my friend!)

By the way, congratulations on your new status!!!

James B Storer

Feb. 24, 2011, 7:49 p.m.

This is a delightful and wonderfully written piece by reporter Linzer, who is often in the front lines of a world in pain and turmoil.  I really do not concern myself with the absolute accuracy of the story.  Reader’s comments on the piece cover the facts rather to the point of overkill.  These are educational, but it surprises me that more comments are not from those who simply enjoy the report for what it is.  This is the humorous story of a person going through the nerve-racking process of becoming an American citizen.  One of the test questions asks who wrote the “Star Spangled Banner.”  This boggles credibility.  C’mon, get real, test makers.  Relevance, please.
Finally, I believe your story coupled with the reader comments combine to make a very informative and enjoyable experience—-Thank you, reporter Linzer, for a gem amongst a forest of reports of tragic and dangerous incidents around the world that you help cover.
Skartishu,
Granby MO

What about Massachusetts and Virginia, which are commonwealths, not states.

I think Kentucky is a commonwealth also. But it wasn’t a colony.

Not to mention New Jersey, which might be most accurately termed a very longstanding embarrassment, or “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” a scandalous warren of brazen freethinkers, smugglers,  tax evaders, fugitive indentured servants, runaway apprentices, sundry absconders and ne’er-do-wells, since forever, by various reliable accounts?

Congratulations, welcome to the family, and sorry for all the idiocy. But thanks for pointing it out! Hopefully we can fix that someday soon.

First, mazel tov on becoming a citizen.

Second, #36 on the flashcards clearly states “What are two Cabinet-level positions?” not name two members of the cabinet.

Chris, you are incorrect about the status of the VP as an “elected” official.

First *you* do not vote for either the president or the vice president. Rather, you vote for electors to represent your state and/or congressional district in the Electoral College. I think whether or not you choose the electors individually or simply vote for, for example, “the Republican electors,” varies from state to state.

The 535 electors thus chosen then get together and cast their votes for president *and vice-president*, and they can vote for whomever they wish for both offices. Although some states have laws which punish electors if they vote for someone other than who they’re “supposed” to, the vote itself would still stand.

There is absolutely no difference between the process by which the president is elected and that by which the VP is elected.

The words written by Francis Scott Key are the second patriotic song written to the tune of “Anacreon in Heaven”. The first was written regarding the US war with the barbary states and include the line, “every Muslim head will bow…”

My girlfried’s grandmother doesn’t speak a word of English (she’s from Hong Kong), but was able to take her US Citizenship test in Cantonese several years ago.

Ok, I misremembered it. it was “the turban’d heads bowed”...

When the warrior returns from the battle afar,
To the home and the country he has nobly defended,
Oh! Warm be the welcome to gladden his ear,
And loud be the joys that his perils are ended!
In the full tide of song, let his fame roll along.
To the feast-flowing board let us gratefully throng.
Where mixt with the olive the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

The next verse celebrates the “band of brothers” that braved the desert and ocean to secure the rights and “fair fame” of America. The third verse continues the theme, more explicitly focused on the Tripolitan war:

In conflict resistless each toil they endured,
Till their foes shrunk dismay’d from the war’s desolation:
And pale beam’d the crescent, its splendor obscur’d
By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation.
Where each flaming star gleam’d a meteor of war,
And the turban’d heads bowed to the terrible glare.
Then mixt with the olive the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath, for the brow of the brave.

I would suggest that both President and Vice President are indirectly elected.

Back before an amendment (16th?) Senators were also indirectly elected by state legislatures.

Obviously, the point of the interview is to make sure that your understanding of American history and politics is as muddled as an actual American’s.

Although, a nitpick: The legal scholars are saying that “The Constitution” isn’t a complete enough answer to “What is the supreme law of the land?”, and to justify this, they cite… a clause of the Constitution. Am I thinking too much like a computer programmer when I see the flaw there? It should be sufficient to say “the Constitution” because it “includes” those other things, though mentioning the other things certainly isn’t wrong.

Meanwhile, a question like “What is the rule of law?” shouldn’t even be on the test, given that it’s not a stated part of either the Constitution or of any big important Federal law (so far as I know), and therefore is subjective, an object of interpretation and legal philosophizing. Although I suppose there are some possible obviously-wrong answers, so it’s a useful filter, for example, someone says “The rule of law is that whatever the President rules becomes law.”

Whew…good thing Ms. Linzer chose to a) wait until she had attained her citizenship and b) only point out these deficiencies during a Democratic Administration; I shudder to think of the consequences had this article been published during the Administration under which the new test was formulated.

The article fails entirely to take into consideration the fact that Republicans are inherently infallible and so a government under their control takes on that attribute from them.  With the way the Republicans are about stacking the DOJ, they not only would desired to but been able to deport her for her failure to comply with the proper ratio of adoration-to-mild-criticism.

Heck, they might have Gitmoed her.

@ Nancy: unfortunately becoming an American Citizen still does force some of us to renounce their current citizenship. I am a German National and will remain so unless the international treaties the US have with Germany and/or Germany’s laws change. (the US will notify Germany, if I were to become a US citizen and Germany would revoke my German citizenship (dual citizenship is not allowed in Germany).

I have lived in the US for 12 years and am married to an American. I also don’t think that either the US or Germany are “the greatest country in the world”. That is an ignorant claim to make until you have lived in every possible country. I will say that I enjoy living where I do for many reasons, but there are many things lacking here as well.

There seems to be this expectation of absolute acceptance of everything this country stands for as a prerequisite for citizenship, which really is not a very democratic, nor free proposition. Fortunately I am allowed to live here without being a citizen (I do pay my taxes). I don’t think this would be any different when applying for citizenship in any number of other free countries, but it also proves that the US is anything but unique today.

Spencer Greene

Feb. 25, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

@ibsteve2u: what a load of malarkey.  I wasn’t a big fan of the previous administration but to claim they might have scuttled her citizenship for pointing out these nitpicky comments (not to mention claiming they might have Gitmo’ed her), is ridiculous to the point of extremes.

Your demonization of Republicans is so ridiculous it makes you look like Glenn Beck.

@Wilson Dizard: huh?

I guess we already have enough prostitutes in this country so we don’t want to naturalize any more?  You would think they might be a little more concerned about embezzlement, money laundering, human rights violations etc…

A nicely written story. My wife passed the test the same as you, answering the first six questions correctly, although it occurred slightly before the current set of 100 questions came into play. The ceremony we attended in Philadelphia was pretty much the same as you reported, too. She didn’t see a need for hiring an attorney anywhere along the way. It was basically a process of send information, pay a fee, wait patiently for a notice to be sent to you; then repeat as many times as required, until the process finally ran its course. We did have to drive 80 miles one day to a converted farmhouse out in rural Pennsylvania for fingerprinting. And nowadays, I understand that the fees have become significantly higher.

I wonder that the discussion about naturalizing “undocumented workers” hasn’t crossed someone’s mind, while reading this. Anyone who has been through this process knows that despite the fact that both you and my wife handled it easily, it is hard to imagine how someone with less money, less complete records at their disposal, and less familiarity with bureaucratic thinking could follow this path to a successful conclusion. Do you agree?

Congrats…I’m also a transplanted Cannuck…just waiting on my Green Card, then in 5 years, I’ll also be able to ignore the right answers!

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