Published on
The Star Tribune (Minnesota)

New Quiz Should Leave Prospective Immigrants at a Loss for Words

There are no stupid questions -- only ones that couldn't possibly be answered.

David Lebedoff

You've got to hand it to our immigration officials. They've come up with a way to prevent any immigrant from any country from ever becoming an American citizen. That should destroy the incentive not only for illegal immigration but for the perfectly legal kind as well.

And they did so without spending a penny. No fences. No increased border controls. No surveillance cameras.

Just a simple test. The federal immigration authorities this week revised the civics test that newcomers are required to take to become naturalized citizens. And, if it is strictly enforced, we'll never have a new citizen again.

The test supposedly was designed to focus on the workings of democracy. And on diversity. Example: Now you need to know who Nancy Pelosi is. (Honestly.)

Of course, many immigrants do know the name of the speaker of the House. And if they don't, there are cram courses from which they can learn it.

But there's one question -- hidden away in the new questionnaire like a tiny ticking bomb -- that no one, absolutely no one, will ever be able to answer.

The question is this: "What does the president's cabinet do?"

Go on, answer it. No one would like to know the answer more than the cabinet members themselves. Think of their anguish on those infrequent occasions when they're summoned to the cabinet room. (Possible test answer: The cabinet meets in the cabinet room. It's worth a try.) Each of them sits at a designated place at the table. All are well-dressed and indicate the seriousness of the occasion by frowning for the cameras. But what are they supposed to actually do? Fortunately, every one of them (presumably) is already a citizen, so they never have to say.

The citizenship quiz could have asked what each cabinet member does, and that would of course be easy to answer. One of them wiretaps, one ignores New Orleans, one lets bridges collapse, and so on.

But the whole cabinet? All together? A strange ensemble that never plays a note.

I suppose someone desperate enough for citizenship could answer that the cabinet advises the president, but anyone saying that runs the risk of being sued for libel by several cabinet officers.

The truth is, no answer works. It's one of those questions, like Euler's conjecture, that sends scholars on an endless quest.

Oh, those crafty folks at Immigration. They're keeping everyone out. On the other hand, we don't know who gets to grade the exam.

David Lebedoff is a Minneapolis attorney and author.

© 2007 Star Tribune

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