Report: Millions of immigrant citizens cannot speak English

A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) makes a startling revelation about the eligibility system that tests immigrants who wish to become “naturalized citizens.”

Although U.S. Customs and Immigration Services say that U.S. citizens must read and understand English, a third of the people becoming naturalized are functionally illiterate. The CIS report found that about 5 million, or 32 percent, of naturalized citizens fall below “basic” English skill level, which is considered functionally illiterate.

Data was collected between 2012 and 2014 from tests taken at the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). More than 8,000 American adults took an English literacy assessment, which found literacy among immigrants to be “a serious concern.”

The PIAAC dataset doesn’t give specific information about citizenship, but CIS did an analysis of Hispanic immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than 15 years. The group “performed especially poorly on the literacy test, with 67 percent scoring ‘below basic’ — a level that some scholars classify as functional illiteracy.”

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services mandate says that persons applying for U.S. citizenship must “be able to read, write, and speak basic English”, and “have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).” These low scoring immigrants apparently pass the minimum test, but in reality are functionally illiterate.

Source: CIS analysis of the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

Jason Richwine, the independent public policy analyst who wrote the report, says the English test the government gives “is far less demanding than the PIAAC test.” While the PIAAC’s definition of literacy is “understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written text to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential,” naturalization applicants only need to read and write one out of three sentences correctly.

The already inadequate test is not even a requirement for applicants of a certain age who have reached certain residency milestones.

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