And Speaking of Immigration …

skeptic… which I wasn’t, but now that I have your attention …

I have a solution for, probably not all, but certainly a major portion of the undocumented immigrant issue. Now, before you fling yourself supine upon the floor, slobbering with gratitude, and wailing “O mighty and beneficent Skeptic-in-Residence! I wish God had made me cool like you!”, please hear me out. First of all, I hope you were not wearing sandals when you read the stuff in quotes in the previous sentence. Messy. But secondly … I think one reason people come across the border, hide in the shadows of American society, and never get around to taking the citizenship test and “going legal” is because the citizenship test is so … well … there’s really no nice way to say this … because the US citizenship test is so boooo-rrrring. So how do we fix the citizenship test so that (a) people will want to take it because, aside from gaining actual citizenship status, (b) it’s so interesting and so much fun? Strange you should ask …

Now, let’s not paint with too broad a brush: by “boring” I mean “boring to most normal, healthy, reasonable human beings”, not to most conservative Republicans and virtually all Tea Party folks, who, because the current citizenship test is so effective in culling out even potential legal immigrants -- which Rick Santorum says we already have 'way too many of -- probably find it the next-best thing to an electrified border fence and the non-fiction equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey, except with a lot less sex … which is quite OK, because they are at least suspicious of sex, anyway. Also, I do not mean “boring” to people like me, who find recondite constitutional and historical issues mesmerizingly fascinating. E.g., if I ever threaten to give you my fifty-cent lecture on the relationship between the commerce and “privileges and immunities” clauses within the context of the constitutional doctrine of “enumerated” powers, do whatever you have to – chew a leg off, indenture your spouse to Boko Haram, compose erotic haikus in lascivious praise of Donald Trump’s comb-over … anything – to avert such a catastrophe. (Not a threat ... just sayin'.)  Anyway, the primary reason the citizenship test is boring to those with normal sensibilities is because it pertains to issues, principles, and historical events that, as a matter of fact, are of marginal relevance, at most, to the primary task at hand: becoming an assimilated, or at least assimilable, American citizen.


I mean, do you really have to know things like:

o Who is the current Vice President? (29 percent of native-born Americans do not know)

o What was the Cold War? (73 percent)

o What is the Bill of Rights? (44 percent)

o What is the significance of July 4? (6 percent) … !!!!!! …

The Center for the Study of the American Dream – oh the irony! -- at Xavier University finds that, among native-born Americans ...

o 85 percent could not define "the rule of law."

o 75 percent did not know function of the judicial branch.

o 71 percent were unable to identify the Constitution as the "supreme law of the land."

o 63 percent could not name one of their state's Senators.

o 62 percent did not know the name the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

o 62 percent could not identify the Governor of their state.

o 57 percent could not define an "amendment."

I could drone on about similar statistics until we all developed various substance-dependency problems, but there is no point in merely seeing how high the rubble will bounce.


Bottom line: you do not have to know anything about the Nation to be a citizen of it … after all, most natural-born Americans do not.

 So the following is a fair conclusion: the current test for US citizenship tests for all the wrong things by asking all the wrong questions. But then what are the right questions? What questions should the US citizenship test ask in order to induce people to take it by giving them a reasonable chance of avoiding a flat-line EEG? The following is a series of examples – representative but by no means exhaustive -- to give a flavor of how a revised, updated, and relevant US citizenship test would read:

(1) Define “Deflate-Gate” … what team was allegedly guilty? In what sense were that team’s balls too flat? (Hint: the answer to the latter question has nothing to do with Dr. Freud.)

(2) An essay question to which there is no right or wrong answer … Using differential geometry and spherical trigonometry, calculate the approximate diameter of Kim Kardashian’s posterior. Show your work.

(3) Which member of a father-son pair of US Senators has a hairstyle strongly reminiscent of wearing a live weasel on his head?

(4) Is there a constitutional prohibition against a live weasel serving as President? If so, please cite Article, Section, and paragraph … if there is no such live-weasel prohibition, you get extra credit if you can state Article, Section, and paragraph saying whether the live weasel has to be a native-born American weasel.

(5) Using Bing or Google, look up the mass of an American one-dollar bill. If the Koch brothers’ wealth were all converted to single one-dollar bills and gathered in a single sphere 1 kilometer in diameter, would the resulting compressed mass of paper currency suffice to form a black hole that would swallow the Koch brothers? Show your calculations. If your answer is “Yes”, you get extra credit if you actually try this experiment. If your answer is “Yes” and your experiment succeeds, you will be made an American citizen by acclamation, so you need not finish this exam.

(6) Same question as (5), except for Mitt Romney. Same extra-credit provision, same terms.

(7) Same question as (5), except for Donald Trump. Same extra-credit provision, same terms.

(8) Suppose there were a massive pandemic of Ebola Zaire sweeping the planet, but that a 100-percent-effective vaccine exists in such abundance that, not only can every human on earth get an inoculation, but there is enough of the drug to fill swimming pools and teach total-immersion SCUBA-license instruction. Now, if parents refuse to vaccinate their children by saying that, according to their religious beliefs, such vaccination would “honk off Jesus,” does the Constitution protect their refusal?

(9) Do you believe the phrase “Sarah Palin bobble-head” is redundant? Why or why not?


(10) Write a book proposal for a zombie apocalypse novel featuring Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL 3rd district) as one of the titular characters … include text telling us how to determine the difference. Ditto Louie Gohmert (R-TX 1st district)

(11)   Suppose a President is elected who, in the space of 6 years, pulls the Nation back from the brink of a 1929-scale depression, introduces and shepherds through Congress substantive changes in the health-insurance industry that results in making health insurance available to 11 million previously uninsured Americans, triples the Dow-Jones average, brings unemployment down from high single digits to middle single digits, extricates American troops from two potentially endless wars, and “green lights” Usama bin Laden. Obviously such a President is a rank incompetent. That is beyond dispute. But is he a rank incompetent because he is (a) a Democrat or (b) black or (c) both (a) and (b). Defend your answer.

(12)   If Predator / Reaper drones with Hellfire missiles are bad, are F-18s with JDAMs better? Why or why not?

(13) I-Phone or Android?

(14) Dancing with the Stars or America’s Got Talent?

(15) If you have Comcast broadband internet access, do you often wax nostalgic for dial-up? (a) Yes, (b) Hell, yes!; (c) Gawd, yes!

(16) Has there ever been a dumber play in the history of the Super Bowl than the failure to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch 1.5 feet outside the end zone on the final play of the Super Bowl? (a) No, (b) Hell, no!, (c) Gawd, no!

(17) What could be done to improve the dancing of the Left Shark in future Katy Perry Super Bowl halftime shows?

Well, as you can tell, there is nothing on the revised US citizenship exam that pertains to fluff and folderol like “What are the 3 co-ordinate branches of the Federal Government?” or “Define the term ‘federalism’” or “For what term and under what conditions do US Supreme Court Justices serve?” or “What is the process of amending the Constitution?” or “The Civil War was fought during what years?”

I would take my argument further, but I have to keep playing the last 5 minutes of my Super Bowl recording over and over ... in hopes of a different outcome.

James R. Cowles

Leave a Reply