When Was the Last Time Someone Answered "Yes" to One of These Questions?

In order to become a U.S. citizen, one has to complete the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Form N-400.

How long do you think it has been since someone answered “yes” to question 12(c) in part 10(b):

Between March 23, 1933, and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate in any way (either directly or indirectly) with any German, Nazi, or S.S. military unit, paramilitary unit, self-defense unit, vigilante unit, citizen unit, police unit, government agency or office, extermination camp, concentration camp, prisoner of war camp, prison, labor camp, or transit camp?

I also wonder what kind of person answers “yes” to this question:

Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?

I’m surprised we still bother to ask this question:

Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with The Communist Party?

There are some trickier questions, though, like this one for instance:

Have you ever committed a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?

Not many people can truthfully answer “no” to that last question, but I presume everyone does anyway.

Is there any point to asking questions when you know that people will never give a “yes” answer?

It turns out that there actually is a point to such questions. U.S. law enforcement can use demonstrably false answers against individuals to prosecute or deport them. Indeed, some officers I was speaking with the other day said they wished there were more questions on terrorist activities on the N-400.


Caliban Darklock

If you're from a communist country, you sort of HAVE to answer "yes" to whether you were associated with the Communist party. You undoubtedly had friends, neighbors, or family in it.

Joe Smith

One is reminded of the story of the Italian anarchist who on trying in immigrate in the 1920s when asked to answer the question:

"Do you advocate the overthrow of United States by force or violence?"

Circled "force".

jblog

Once when I joined a local rod and gun club, I was asked if I belonged to any organizations that advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

"Well no, not the violent overthrow..."

Charlotte

When my parents were becoming US citizens in 2001, they ordered some prep books for the test and interview. Most of the books available were obviously written for non-native English speakers (we moved from England, so these were not necessary) and I remember one in particularly which had example interview questions and answers.

For the question, "Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with The Communist Party?", the sample answer was "Yes, in the 1970s, but I never went to the meetings."

I always wondered how many people who struggled with English repeated this answer back at the interview, despite never being involved in the Communist Party or really knowing what they were admitting to.

Jeff

I would prefer some level of obfuscation

"Have you not not been arrested?"

Kate

Ha ha ha. I remember when I got my visa to England I had to fill out a U.S. form that asked me some of the questions above, as well as one that asked if I had ever been assiciated with "crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity."

Lane

For question 22a on that form, does that include time spent in college?

Michael

So if you say No to having committed any crime or offense and not being arrested, can you be deported for having jaywalked?

Hmmmmm

Don't answer yes even as a joke. INS does not have a sense of humor.

C. Larity

My proposal for other questions:

1. Do you plan to exceed speed limits while driving within America?

2. Will you or have you ever taken a towel from a hotel?

3. Have you ever been a part of any organization or group?

4. Have you ever broken any laws, including the laws of thermodynamics and/or gravity?

5. Between 1861 and 1865, did you aid- either financially or by participating in armed conflict- the Confederate States of America?

6. Have you ever tasted, or associated with those who did taste, forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden?

7. Have you ever been associated (either directly or indirectly) with the subversive Flat Earth Society?

That should just about cover anything law enforcement needs.

Lee

Two other advantages:

1. Some perhaps small number of applicants might answer yes, especially in light of the penalties for lying. This is especially true if they have an excuse or a spin ("I was a member of Hamas when I was young, impulsive and didn't have a job offer from Intel"), but still. It would be an entry point to a wider investigation.

2. A$$-covering. If the INS never asks, they will have catch righteous congressional hell if a terrorist slips through the process.

(By the way, Wikipedia indicates that the INS ceased to exist in 2003. The Department of Homeland Security now performs that function.)

Yu Ping Hu

At least as of 1999, the forms that military recruiters used when talking to prospective enlistees still included the "are you a communist" question as well as the "are you gay" question. However, my recruiter, upon reaching those questions, crossed them out on the form and pointed out that they no longer ask them. (However, he proceeded to joke that "of course, between you and me, the answer would be no, right?")

At any rate, it's a bit surprising that the naturalization process still actively asks those questions.

Avi Rappoport

I wonder what happens if one does say yes. If your second-cousin once removed was a member of the Communist Party, do they consider that "associated"?

WN

I recently filled out the N-400 Form and was smiling to myself as I read those questions. After reading the series of questions, I had to go back to the first section of that page, where it asked if we ever were members of any organization, association, party, club, or any other group in the United States. I had wrote down the professional and other national groups I was a member of and it made me think if it was actually asking for any association with the questions that followed.

Kinglink

"Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?" Seems vague. It probably should be "with a terrorist organization as recognized by the United States" For some Hamas is a terrorist organization, some make a link that certain governments are behaving like a terrorist organization.

But sadly yeah the whole reason those questions are asked is because you can prosecute/fine or deal with people who put down no but you can prove has a link/associate/business relationship mentioned.

Kate

Like what several others have said, this is simply a legal form of ass-covering (says the student who was in immigration law 6 hours ago).

tudza

Indeed, isn't it still true that the UN has not come to an agreement about what terrorist activity is?

david

I just passed my citizenship exam a month ago and due to become a citizen in a few weeks.

In addition to some of the questions above and more, the form I present asks (to paraphrase); that in the few weeks between the interview and the ceremony have I become a 'habitual drunkard'

This stuff is odd.

The form also states that while all information is optional, it will affect my application. Nice.

hal

Just like job applications, the whole point is that 10 years later, if the machines find out you lied, you are deported without having to consider your life here, the flimsiness of evidence for your guilt by associations, or any other relevant fact. You lied on the application ?.... adios!!

On the other hand, if you don't lie, and say you did have such associations, you are immediately subject to the bureaucratic vagaries on the spot, without recourse.

So which behavior is incentivized? Lying or truth-telling? The odds might be affected by whether you are an innocent supplicant (perhaps with lots of juice) or a wild-eyed (behind the dark glasses) anarchist. All this is coupled with the degree to which the vast state enterprise is fearful at the moment or merely its usual inscrutable.

david

Oh yeah... the INS became the BCIS. The BCIS became the USCIS. Anyone care to guess what they call it next year?