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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 02:24 GMT
US unveils new citizenship test
By Emilio San Pedro
BBC News, Miami

US residents take an oath of citizenship
The new questions will be tried out on immigrant volunteer groups
The US government has unveiled a new citizenship test for immigrants which will focus on the concepts of democracy rather than on historical facts.

However, immigrant rights groups have rejected the new test, describing it as an anti-immigrant measure.

Officials said the aim was to encourage immigrants to learn about the country's civic values to become better citizens.

The new questions will be tried out on immigrant volunteer groups before being included in the new test.

The plans to revamp the citizenship exam were announced by the director of the US government's Citizenship and Immigration Services, Emilio Gonzalez.

Mr Gonzalez says those who want to become US citizens should not be allowed to do so by simply rattling off historical facts they have memorised but should show a passion for the country of which they are becoming an integral part. The new questions will require those taking the exam to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the American political system and its history.

Why does the United States have three branches of government?
Name two rights that are only for US citizens
Name two cabinet-level positions
Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence
What does the Constitution do?

Prospective citizens will, for example, be asked to explain the conditions which led to the US civil war - unlike the current test in which they simply have to answer that it freed the slaves.

However, immigrant rights groups have raised serious concerns about the new test which they say is an anti-immigrant measure which simply aims to make it harder for immigrants to become US citizens.

And, the fact is that most of the eight million immigrants who already meet the necessary basic requirements for citizenship are for the most part native Spanish speakers.

That will, no doubt, make it difficult for them to explain complicated concepts related to the US political system in English - a language of which many of them have little more than a basic command.

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