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Biden Is Planning To Scrap Trump's Version Of The Citizenship Test That Critics Said Was More Confusing

Critics said the Trump-era version lacked transparency, added more than two dozen questions, and included confusing wording changes.

Last updated on February 12, 2021, at 4:49 p.m. ET

Posted on February 12, 2021, at 4:41 p.m. ET

Charlie Neibergall / AP

People raise their hands while taking the oath of allegiance during a drive-thru naturalization ceremony in Des Moines, June 26, 2020.

Department of Homeland Security officials are planning to scrap a Trump-era version of the civics test administered to would-be US citizens that was criticized as being harder and more complex than its predecessor, according to officials and government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The plans come just two months after the Trump administration issued a new version of the civics test that all immigrants have two chances to pass in order to become citizens.

The Trump-era version issued by US Citizenship and Immigration Services added more than two dozen questions for immigrants to prepare for and included wording changes that in some cases made it more complex, according to immigrant advocates. Under the Trump-era exam, immigrants had to get 12 out of 20 questions correct; previously, the minimum requirement was 6 out of 10 questions. Advocates, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, also said the wording of certain correct answers was changed due to “political influence”; for example, the answer to “Who does a U.S. senator represent?” was altered from “all the people” to “citizens of their state.”

Immigrant groups and attorneys claimed the changes were part of the Trump administration’s overall effort to restrict immigration and curtail the number of people able to gain citizenship. Agency officials, however, said it was part of a process to update the questions to prepare immigrants to become US citizens.

According to an internal draft of a USCIS document, the agency plans to revert back to the 2008 version of the naturalization test's civics portion, which was also confirmed by two officials at the agency.

A USCIS spokesperson said they had nothing “final” to share at this time.

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the 2008 version of the test was taken by volunteers and developed over a seven-year period with the input of more than 150 organizations, which included English as a second language experts, educators, and historians, before going live.

“The Trump administration's revision lacked all of the transparency and wide input of that effort. Instead, they simply explained that they had received input from ‘experts in the field of adult education’ and that they tested it with an undisclosed number of volunteers during the summer of 2020,” she said.

USCIS received thousands of comments in response to the changes, including from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, which found that only 40 questions in the new version of the test had been retained from the previous iteration.

"The new naturalization civics test content and procedures change the test in a way that would impede applicants from reaching citizenship status, and the rights and duties that accompany it,” the group wrote in a letter documenting its opposition to the changes.

Pierce also noted that the Trump-era version of the civics test was less efficient.

“Under the 2008 test, adjudicators only needed to ask as many questions as it took for the applicant to pass — so it frequently was as few as six. Under the new test, adjudicators must ask 20 questions each time, even if the applicant has passed after the first 12. This means the new test will extend the civics test portion of the naturalization interview by as much as three times,” she said.

The reduction in efficiency was notable considering that the agency had been struggling financially in 2020 and at one point requested Congress provide more than $1 billion in order to avoid furloughs that would impact the majority of its employees.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.