Questions puzzle some U.S. citizens

Monday, June 11, 2007
Twenty five people representing 11 different countries read the Oath of Allegiance during the Naturalization Ceremony that was held at the Federal Court House in Cape Girardeau, Friday, Aug., 11, 2006. (DIANE L. WILSON • dlwilson@semissourian.com)

Dianne Reyes was born in the Philippines, but she has spent the last 13 years of her life in Missouri. Last August, she and her mother finally became U.S. citizens.

"It was about time," Reyes said. "This is what we call our home."

Aside from living in the United States, completing a naturalization application and having "good moral character," Reyes had to take an immigration test with questions about United States history, government and patriotic practices, questions some Cape Girardeau residents couldn't answer.

Reyes, three Central High School teachers, three students and one city council member were given 25 questions to see how they would fare when trying to become a citizen.

The questions were chosen from a list of 100 questions the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services deems necessary for citizens to know. They ask things like, "What is the Fourth of July?" and "How many representatives are in Congress?"

The teachers made the highest grades with two 96s and one 88, but their students missed 13 questions, giving them the lowest score, a 48. Reyes and Councilwoman Loretta Schneider both missed eight of the 25 questions.

Reyes said she had learned some of the material in school, but she and her mother still had to study who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" and what the stripes on the flag stand for when they took the test in August.

"I knew them at one point," she said. "But I forget things."

Schneider answered the same questions and forgot some things as well.

"I think if you had any kind of review, they would be easy," Schneider said. She knew what the preamble to the Constitution was and what the stripes on the flag stand for, but couldn't remember how many amendments are in the Constitution. She said the questions were valid for citizenship.

Most people know what their home country's flag means, she said. "If they want to be a citizen of our country, they should understand what that flag really means."

Maria Elema Upson, a spokeswoman for United States Citizen and Immigration Services, said the questions are meant to ensure "when they raise their right hand and pledge allegiance that they understand what this country was based on."

"Civic integration is what we want them to understand," Upson said. "Making sure that they understand the values of this country."

The questions also test an understanding of basic government, like the three branches and what they do.

"I teach government and that's exactly what I teach," said Steve Richardet, a teacher at Central. Richardet could only name 12 of the 13 original states -- his only mistake.

"I thought they were questions citizens need to know," he said.

The list of questions is set to change in 2008. The USCIS is piloting additional questions and rewording old ones.

"The purpose of us going ahead and revamping it is because we are trying to make it more meaningful," Upson said. The new questions delve further into how the American government operates.

They ask questions like, "Why do we have three branches of government?" and "Name one example of checks and balances."

The older test-takers were aware of governmental practices and who holds offices right now, but their younger counterparts thought the president was inaugurated in November and that we fought France in the Revolutionary War.

"Um... yeah, I failed American history. That's why I'm here," said Brittany Breckenridge, a Central student who collaborated on the test with two other girls after summer school Friday.

Working together, the three students made a 48.

"Ms. Womack is gonna be so disappointed," said Jackie Evans, who knew how many senators there were and why, but didn't know how many representatives were in Congress.

"I was going to put 432," she said when she found out there are 435.

For a complete list of questions and to view the pilot questions, visit www.uscis.gov.

charris@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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