There’s no shortage of schools, classes, workshops, websites and seminars that are available nationwide to would-be applicant wanting to become a U.S. citizen. There are many types of programs that offer to help people prepare for all aspects of the naturalization process.
“We have complete citizenship programs in English. We prepare our students to pass the citizenship exams,” explains Pepe Casillas, Co-Director at Hermandad Mexicana Nacional.
Hermandad Mexicana Nacional – or National Brotherhood of Mexicans – is just one of many locations that offer classes.
“We fill out the applications for them and then we submit it to the INS Department. We then have them begin the classes. They come to class whenever they can come. We have classes every day and then we give them the test. Once they’re going to have their interview, we also prepare them for that process,” adds Casillas
Many local and national organizations, public libraries, and community colleges, offer citizenship classes- or coaching- for free or for a small registration fee.
Regardless of the price, there’s no shortage of students. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in new applicants. This year alone, we’ve seen an increase of probably 1,500 people. It has been many years since we’ve seen this type of growth. This has probably been the year that we’ve seen the largest amount of people become U.S. citizens,” says Casillas.
Today, the schools that offer citizenship classes are scrambling to change their curriculum – this since the U.S. government announced that they’re switching over to an all-new written test for naturalization applicants. Martha Flores, Chief of Staff of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services says, “We wanted to make a test that was more meaningful. We wanted to be able to have the applicant understand a question, to understand the civics and the history of the United States, rather than just memorizing a response. So we wanted to be able to create a more open and meaningful test for the applicant.”
The actual content of the test is pretty much the same, officials say. But now the applicants will have to do more than just memorize questions and answers. “For example, in the past we may have asked, ‘What color is the American flag?’ Now in the new test it asks, ‘Why is the flag a certain color?’ Or, before we would ask, ‘How many stripes does the flag have?’ Now the question would be, ‘What do the stripes stand for? What do they signify?’” explains Flores.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service folks have put the new test on the Internet. Applicants, as well as the people who assisted applicants, had until October, 2008, to study it before it was replaced with the current test. People who applied, and had their interview scheduled before that date, took the old test. But anyone who applies now will take the new test.
Officials say they gave the test a test run of its own and they were convinced it wouldn’t be much more difficult than the old one. “That’s why it took about a year before we were able to come up with what we did – with a lot of feedback from the community,” says Flores.
“We actually piloted the test in ten cities throughout the United States with the passing rate of approximately 92%.
So, as of now, it appears to have proven successful and I think that if people take a look at the test, they’ll see that it’s not that difficult,” adds Flores.