Jewish World Review July 8, 1999 /25 Tamuz, 5759
cues from Seinfeld?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- BECOMING A U.S. CITIZEN has never been more difficult, or so it appears, judging from recent denial rates for immigrants wishing to become naturalized Americans.
Some 1.8 million immigrants are awaiting naturalization, but increasing numbers of them won't make the grade. Denials are up 251 percent nationwide in the first six months of 1999, and more than 56,000 applicants in Los Angeles alone were denied during this period. Why? The answer for hundreds of them sounds more like a "Seinfeld" episode re-run than what you would expect from the nation's Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Like the fictional Babu Bhatt, the peripatetic Pakistani character on Seinfeld who was deported thanks to a undelivered INS letter, several hundred immigrants ran afoul of the INS recently when they didn't receive official notifications that they were to appear for INS hearings. It seems the INS simply mailed notifications to the wrong addresses. When applicants failed to appear for their required interview, the INS automatically denied them citizenship.
Typical of this group is Yelena Tarashchanskaya, a 70-year-old Ukranian refugee who came to the United States 10 years ago. "Every morning for years, I checked my mail to see if there was anything new on my citizenship application. But I never found anything. I just could not understand what was going on," she recently told the Los Angeles Times. Tarashchanskaya didn't even know she had been denied citizenship until a social worker went to the L.A. district office of the INS to inquire what had happened to the request. The INS sent the denial letter to the wrong address, too.
The INS admits it hasn't done a good job updating applicants' addresses, but spokesmen claim the problem only affects a few hundred people. In response, the INS plans to institute a new toll-free telephone number where applicants can automatically log in address changes.
Three years ago, the Center for Equal Opportunity (where I am president) surveyed the 33 INS district offices to determine how each administered the U.S. history and government test that is required to become a naturalized citizen. The test is comprised of questions chosen from among 100 recommended by the INS, which include questions like "Who was the first president of the United States?" and "Who makes the laws of the United States?" to trickier ones like "Which countries were our enemies during World War II?" or "Who elects the president?"
(The correct answer to the former includes Italy in addition to Germany and Japan, and to the latter, the electoral college, not merely the people.)
CEO found that INS district officials were free to administer the test pretty much as they saw fit, without oversight from the INS headquarters. In practical terms, that meant an applicant in Seattle could be required to answer correctly eight of 16 questions on an oral test, while an applicant in Chicago was required to answer correctly six of 10 questions on a written exam. What was worse, district officials were often the sole arbiters of what qualified as a correct answer, allowing considerable latitude to individual examiners.
CEO found similar difficulties with respect to the English language requirement for naturalization. Although the law requires all applicants who are under 50 years of age and have lived 20 years in the United States to demonstrate the ability to speak, read and write simple English, INS district offices varied widely in their application of this standard. Some offices penalized applicants who were fluent but had heavy accents; others passed applicants who spoke virtually no English.
Applicants for U.S. citizenship have every right to expect that the government agency charged with administering
naturalization be fair and efficient. But no one should expect the test to be easy. The INS would better serve everyone if it
concentrated on reforming its administrative practices instead of revising its citizenship
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