Is speaking English really a requirement for U.S. citizenship?
The question of whether immigrants to the U.S. must learn English came to the forefront of the debate this week.
On Wednesday President Trump endorsed legislation introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), and David Perdue (R-GA) that called for immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. to learn English. This was followed later that afternoon by a heated exchange at a press briefing between senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller and CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, during which the question of English as a requirement for citizenship was raised.
CNN once again gets it wrong
While attempting to ridicule President Trump’s immigration legislative efforts, CNN’s Acosta cited the famous “huddled masses” poem from the Statue of Liberty, snorting derisively that the poem “doesn’t say anything about speaking English.” Acosta then added, “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?”
In a manner reminiscent of a teacher having to once again correct an obstinate, ill-informed student, Miller then pointed out that immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens must indeed be able to speak English. “Well, first of all,” Miller said, “right now it’s a requirement that to be naturalized you have to speak English.”
Yes, Mr. Acosta, English is a requirement for U.S. citizenship
Unless they meet certain requirements for exemption, all applicants seeking to become U.S. citizens must pass an English language test. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, applicants for U.S. citizenship must pass three separate English language tests; speaking, reading and writing.
“An officer determines an applicant’s ability to speak and understand English based on the applicant’s ability to respond to questions normally asked in the course of the naturalization examination” – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website
The USCIS website notes that the USCIS officer conducting the naturalization examination makes a determination regarding the applicant’s English language proficiency. “An officer determines an applicant’s ability to speak and understand English based on the applicant’s ability to respond to questions normally asked in the course of the naturalization examination.” According to the USCIS website, an applicant fails this test if “he or she does not understand sufficient English to be placed under oath or to answer the eligibility questions on his or her naturalization application.”
Exemptions possible under certain circumstances
Individuals can request an exemption from the English proficiency test if they are “50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States for 20 years,” or if they are “55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years.”
Applicants who fail the English test are given two chances to re-take the test. Applicants must also pass a U.S. civics test.