In a stunning indictment of the system that tests immigrants on their eligibility to become "naturalized citizens," a new report finds that a third are functionally illiterate, unable to speak and understand enough English to get that status.
Some 32 percent of naturalized citizens, about 5 million, fall below "basic" skills in English, the equivalent of being functionally illiterate, according to a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies.
The report is a follow on to one that found 67 percent of immigrants in the United States for 15 years or more can't speak much English.
According to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, those hopeful of becoming U.S. citizens must "be able to read, write, and speak basic English." They must also "have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics)."
While the immigrants apparently pass the minimum test, CIS looked also to a more authoritative test conducted by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and found that in reality many immigrants are functionally illiterate. The tests, done before President Trump took office, suggest that 32 percent of all naturalized citizens speak English "not well or not at all." Of those, nearly half were Hispanics.
The author, Jason Richwine, an independent public policy analyst, concluded:
How did millions of immigrants become citizens without basic English literacy? The simple answer is that the government's English test is far less demanding than the PIAAC test. The PIAAC definition of literacy is "understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written text to participate in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential." Simply reading and writing basic English sentences does not necessarily meet that definition. As mentioned above, even some native English speakers struggle to apply their knowledge to language-intensive tasks.
By contrast, naturalization applicants need only "read aloud one out of three sentences correctly" and "write one out of three sentences correctly" to prove their English ability. Does a person who passes this test sound ready to fully participate in the nation's social, economic, and civic interchange? Though its content already seems insufficient, the test is not even required of applicants who have reached certain age and residency milestones. If we are serious about new citizens developing functional English skills, the United States should adopt more rigorous language requirements.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org