By Norma Staaf
The Fourth of July is our chance to celebrate the birth of our nation and our many freedoms. Those of us who were lucky enough to be born in this country have what is known as birthright citizenship. Under U.S. policy derived from the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States and the state where they reside.” In addition, anyone who is born abroad to at least one parent can also claim American citizenship.
For a person from another country, naturalization is the process to become a U.S. citizen under the Immigration and Nationality Act. This can be a long and cumbersome process with limits on the number of people who may become citizens each year. My mother, Lia Noukas Staaf, escaped with her parents from her home country of Estonia during World War II and came to the US. as a displaced person after the war. She applied for citizenship, met all of the requirements and became a naturalized citizen in 1955.
One of the final steps to becoming a naturalized citizen is a civics test conducted by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. He or she will ask the applicant 10 questions from a list of 100 possible standard civics questions. A score of six out of 10 is needed to pass. Let’s see if you could pass. No looking at your phone or computer or asking others. Some of the questions have multiple correct answers.
- Who makes federal laws?
2. Name one of your state’s senators.
3. If both the president and vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president? Bonus question: Name the person who currently holds that office.
4. Who is currently the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?
5. Under the U.S. Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. Name one power of the federal government.
6. Under the Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
7. What is one right only United States citizens have?
8. What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?
9. Name one U.S. territory.
10. Name two ways that Americans can exercise their rights in their democracy.
- Congress, or Senate and House of Representatives.
- Idaho — Mike Crapo, James Risch; Washington — Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray.
- Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives (Bonus: Nancy Pelosi).
- Chief Justice John Roberts.
- To print money, declare war, create an army, to make treaties.
- Provide schooling and education, provide protection (police), provide safety (fire departments), issue a driver’s license, approve zoning and land use.
- Vote in a federal election, run for federal office.
- Freedom of expression, of speech, of assembly, to petition the government, of religion; and the right to bear arms.
- Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam.
10.) Vote, join a political party, help with a campaign, join a civic group, form a community group, give an elected official your opinion on an issue, call senators and representatives, publicly support or oppose an issue or policy, run for office, write to a newspaper.
So how did you do? Did you pass? Now imagine that you are alone in a room with a uniformed officer asking you these questions and your citizenship depends on whether you pass or not.
Question No. 10 got me thinking about how I am doing participating in our democracy.
I have done everything on the list in the past year, including running for office. How about you? What are you doing to participate in your democracy? Are you enjoying the freedoms that you have for expression, speech, assembly and petitioning the government?
Do you think it’s hopeless to vote? Keep in mind that in many elections fewer than 50 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. Even though the May 2020 Idaho primary election had the highest voter turnout since 1980, the voter turnout was still only 37 percent. If people don’t vote, they can’t expect a different result.
Even if your elected official belongs to a different political party than you do it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them. One phone call or letter on a topic may not change anyone’s mind or vote, but if 100 people or 1,000 people call, it may change. It’s only hopeless if you believe it is. A friend of mine who lobbies the state legislature for a nonprofit group told me to never give up on anyone — “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” Soon after, I wrote to one of my representatives, who I don’t often agree with, about an issue and asked her to oppose a bill and listed my reasons. Lo and behold, she voted the way I wanted her to but for slightly different reasons.
Elected officials work for you. If they don’t respond to your calls and letters, ask a question at their town hall Zoom meeting; ask them to meet with you or a group you are a part of; organize a protest in front of their office; write a letter to the editor in your local newspaper opposing their views — most politicians don’t like bad press. That includes local officials, county commissioners, hospital boards and school boards. Of course, if you like what they are doing, let them know they are doing a great job or that they made the right decision. Who doesn’t like to hear that?
What good are our freedoms if we don’t use them?
Staaf is a substitute at the Kamiah Community Library and a freelance writer. She lives with her husband Nick Hazelbaker in the hills near Harpster, where they manage natural resources on their land.