The government wants to make the citizenship test for immigrants more meaningful, requiring a better understanding of America’s history and government institutions.

No longer would it be sufficient to know the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial). Applicants could also be asked why there are three branches of government.

The government on Thursday was to unveil 144 draft questions that it plans to try out on immigrant applicants in 10 cities where it is testing a new citizenship exam. Citizenship and Immigration Services planned to post the questions on its Web site at noon Thursday.

Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Homeland Security Department, has been working for several years to redesign the test. A 2003 attempt also was given a tryout in some cities, but it failed and was scuttled.

Acceptable answers to the question about why there are three branches of government could include: So that no branch is too powerful; or to separate the power of government, said Chris Rhatigan, an agency spokeswoman. Rhatigan provided examples of the test questions to The Associated Press.

The questions being released Thursday will be for the civics portion of the test and will be given orally to immigrants who volunteer to take the new draft test.

The redesign is aimed at making sure applicants know the meaning behind some of America’s fundamental institutions, Rhatigan said.

"There’s not one, rote SAT type question and answer," she said.

The draft civics questions will be tried out early next year in Albany, N.Y.; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Denver; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; San Antonio; Tucson, Ariz.; and Yakima, Wash.

The questions will go into use in the pilot cities before advocacy groups get a chance to point out any problems or concerns. After the questions are tested, the agency plans to spend a year examining results and reviewing the questions with groups with expertise and interest in the tests.

Immigration officials want to narrow the number of questions to 100 and launch the redesigned test in early 2008.

Another possible question would delve into the history of the Civil War. Applicants are now asked, What was the Emancipation Proclamation?

Current applicants need to know that it freed the slaves. In the future, however, prospective citizens will need to have a deeper understanding of the Civil War and name one of the problems that led to it.

Acceptable answers could include slavery, economics or states’ rights, Rhatigan said.

In the pilot, volunteers answering the new test questions can at anytime stop and take the current exam so as not to lose the chance to become a citizen, Rhatigan said.

Immigration advocates said Wednesday they are wary of the questions. A variety of groups with varying ideologies about immigration have been working with Citizenship and Immigration Service, meeting with them monthly, to advise the agency on drafting the questions.

Immigration advocates want to ensure that the new test does not make becoming a citizen more difficult, while groups that want to control immigration want to ensure newcomers are not simply memorizing information.

Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the question about three branches of government is vague.

"The answer could be anything from because the Constitution says so to a long lecture on 18th century French political philosophy, which is where we got the idea," Tsao said.


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Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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