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  1. #1
    Senior Member cvangel's Avatar
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    Nov 2006

    Immigration Chief Preps Candidates for New Test

    Immigration Chief Preps Candidates for New Test
    Staff Reporter of the Sun
    March 20, 2008

    A wave of new immigrants has prompted the federal immigration agency to initiate a new government-led assimilation project. A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, projected that one in five residents will be foreign-born by 2050. In response, the chief of the Office of Citizenship at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alfonso Aguilar, says it was necessary for the government to become more active about integrating the newcomers.

    The project, which focuses on civic and political assimilation, not cultural, has been gearing up for several years, but it accelerated this month as immigration officials prepared to launch a new citizenship exam in October that they say is designed to be more meaningful that the current test. "We need to build an Americanization movement for the 21st century that recognizes what is different from 100 years ago," Mr. Aguilar said. "The political, that's where we have the common elements that bind us."

    As a part of the assimilation effort, the government this month made available a new "citizenship tool-kit" for nonprofit groups that prepare immigrants for the citizenship test and is beginning to hold trainings on the test across the country for adult education teachers that work with immigrants.

    Mr. Aguilar has also been touring cities to spread awareness about the new test and the government's new focus on integration.

    "We don't just make them citizens, we make them feel like Americans," Mr. Aguilar told The New York Sun at his first stop in New York City as a part of the tour last Thursday.

    He was preparing to teach a civics class based on the new test at a community organization in Brooklyn, Project Reach Youth. The students sat on the edges of their chairs as Mr. Aguilar, who is a naturalized citizen, began to lead them through a study guide. Although the test is meant to promote learning English, Mr. Aguilar alternated between English and Spanish to encourage his shy audience — all immigrants from Latin America — to speak up.

    "What does 'We the people' mean?" he began. A woman seated in the back of the room, Dora Pinzon, an immigrant from Colombia who is 70, broke a long pause with a tentative answer in Spanish: "That we are all part of this country?"

    Gradually, Mr. Aguilar's enthusiasm and energy loosened up the group. "Is race what unites all Americans?" he asked in English. "No!" the students called out in unison.

    A few questions later Ms. Pinzon raised her hand again and this time explained in accented, but grammatically perfect, English what happens after a bill passes through Congress: "It goes to the president and he signs it."

    The class then discussed the Bill of Rights and the contrasts between their own countries and their adopted home — the sort of discussion Mr. Aguilar said he hopes the new test will prompt across the country.

    In fact, the process of changing the test has itself has become one of the heated back-and-forth discussions only possible in the democracy Mr. Aguilar was describing to the Project Reach Youth students.

    It began about 10 years ago, after a federal commission on immigration urged the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to change a test that was plagued by inconsistency and a lack of standards. The INS began an initial foray into redesigning the test, an effort that was ramped up when the USCIS was created to replace it in 2003.

    The agencies went through two contractors, two studies, and enlisted the help of a multitude of outside experts and immigrant advocates. Several of the immigration groups involved found themselves frustrated with the process. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network released a critical report last year faulting the immigration agency for asking for the advice of immigrant groups and the National Academy of Sciences and then ignoring it.

    "The main concerns were that we didn't want to see a new test that was going to put up more barriers to citizenship," a spokesman for the New York Immigration Coalition, which sat on one of the original advisory panels, Norman Eng, said. "There are already so many hurdles that immigrants have to go through."

    In the end, the agency adjusted the test to reflect some of the concerns.

    The new test is not supposed to be harder than the old test: There will still be 100 questions from which immigration agents will choose 10 to ask applicants. But in contrast to the old questions, which began with seven separate questions about the symbolism of the flag, the new set of questions begins with, "What is the supreme law of the land?" and asks next what the Constitution does.

    The immigration agency had hoped its assimilation efforts would be boosted by an infusion of $100 million proposed as part of a failed bill introduced last year that would also have overhauled the immigration system. Then the director of the agency, Emilio Gonzalez, stepped down last week, leaving the agency without a leader as it struggles with a large backlog of citizenship applications and prepares to roll out the new test nationally with a budget of about $4 million.

    Still, Mr. Aguilar, who talks about his agency's assimilation goals as enthusiastically as he explains the Bill of Rights to new immigrants, is not deterred by the challenges.

    "Immigration is the federal government's responsibility, but integration is the responsibility of everyone in the community," he said. "We're just part of it."

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bowman's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
    North Mexico aka Aztlan

    Re: Immigration Chief Preps Candidates for New Test

    Quote Originally Posted by cvangel
    As a part of the assimilation effort, the government this month made available a new "citizenship tool-kit" for nonprofit groups that prepare immigrants for the citizenship test
    A Chinese friend of mine just took the citizenship test. She said it was really easy. Anybody that thinks it is too hard should not be an American. They only ask 10 questions, out of a possible 100 questions. She studied those 100 questions for 2 months.
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