Immigrants in 10 U.S. Cities Will Soon See New Citizenship Test

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Boston and nine other cities will be trying out a new citizenship exam that tests applicants' grasp of the American democracy.

The current test is heavy on historical facts, and includes questions about the colors of the U.S. flag and the name of the form used to apply for citizenship. The new exam will ask about the Bill of Rights and the meaning of democracy.

"The intent is to create a test, and a testing process, that is fair and meaningful," said Shawn Saucier, spokesman for the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services. "It is not to make it harder ... The new test is designed to encourage immigrants to really look at our history and government, and what we value as a society."

Starting this winter, the test will be offered on a voluntary basis in Boston and nine other cities. Officials have not announced the other cities that will offer the test, Saucier said.

In 2008, the exam will be given to all applicants for naturalization.

During the pilot project, officials hope to work out any problems with the test and refine the exam by administering it to 5,000 people. To pass the test, immigrants must correctly answer six of 10 questions.

Some immigrant advocates say a more sophisticated set of questions could make the exam more difficult to pass and raise the bar for citizenship too high.

"We are highly suspicious of their motives for [redesigning the test]," said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which drafted a letter to federal official. "We think that it may be designed to make it difficult for less-educated immigrants to become citizens."