Biden Administration Revokes Trump Changes to Citizenship Test for Immigrants
Added 02-23-21 01:21:02am EST - “The previous administration had made some reasonable changes, but also introduced questions based on factual errors and questionable normative assumptions smuggled in under the guise of factual knowledge.” - Reason.com
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On Monday, the Biden administration revoked changes to the citizenship test for immigrants that were adopted in the waning days of the Trump administration. The official announcement from US Citizenship and Immigration Services is here. With the exception of a few test administrations over the next few weeks (where some applicants will have the option of taking either the new or old versions of the test, in order to accommodate those who studied for the 2020 version on the expectation that it would be the one they would have to pass), USCIS is going to revert to the 2008 version that the Trump administration tried to supplant.
As I explained in this December post on the Trump revision, some of the changes made by the former administration were reasonable, including increasing the number of questions from ten to twenty, and eliminating some questions focusing on geography, while adding more about history, law, and political institutions. The latter types of knowledge are more useful for purposes of being an informed voter, which is presumably the purpose of the test in the first place. But the Trump administration also introduced many new questions that incorporated factual errors, smuggled in disputable normative assumptions in the guise of factual knowledge, or some combination of both. I went over examples of both problems in my December post.
On balance, it would have been better if the Biden administration had kept the defensible aspects of the Trump reforms, while getting rid of the biased and inaccurate questions. But if we can only have one of the two, I would say it is better to get rid of the latter, even at the cost of also junking the former. Including questions based on factual errors and disputable normative assumptions is both counterproductive and egregiously unfair, in so far as it punishes applicants who know enough to realize that the official "correct" answers are actually wrong, or who just happen to disagree with the normative assumptions behind the nonfactual questions. But, as noted in my earlier post, some of the questions on the 2008 version of the test also have significant flaws. So far at least, the new administration has not tried to fix them.
Regardless of which version of the test is used, neither Trump reform nor the Biden reversal of it address some of the deeper issues raised by the use of tests to screen applicants for the citizenship. I discuss some of them in my earlier post:
Unlike the right to live and work in a given location, the right to vote is not just a personal liberty, but also, as John Stuart Mill put it, the right to exercise "power over others." Thus, there is some potential justification for restricting the franchise to those with at least a minimal level of political knowledge. That is, at least in theory, what the citizenship test is supposed to do. And it is also the reason why we deny the suffrage to children, among others….
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