AKRON, Pa. – It is not unusual for new immigrants to the United States who are conscientious objectors to war to face obstacles in the citizenship process. This is true despite the fact that the Supreme Court made a clear ruling more than 50 years ago allowing conscientious objectors to become U.S. citizens.
When Mukarabe Makinto-Inandava applied for U.S. citizenship after emigrating from Burundi, Central Africa, she included a statement about her pacifist convictions: "When you eliminate a person by killing, you have not eliminated the cause of the conflict, but murdered a father, mother or child loved by their family. I experienced war firsthand in my country. ... Therefore I do not promote war as a way to resolve problems."
Makinto-Inandava supplemented her statement with a letter from her Mennonite Church USA conference minister and indicated that she could not participate in war or military service. During her citizenship interview, the immigration officer told her that her conscientious objector position could prevent her from gaining citizenship. He asked her to change her position and rewrite her statement.
A new resource from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S., "Immigration and Conscientious Objection Packet/Guía de Inmigración y Objeción por Conciencia," addresses the issue faced by Makinto-Inandava.
It provides information and guidance to conscientious objectors who are applying for U.S. citizenship including instructions for submitting a conscientious objector claim. It also provides sample letters and stories of people who have been through the citizenship process as conscientious objectors. All materials are in English and Spanish.
The packet also provides an explanation of the Oath of Allegiance that immigrants must take as a part of citizenship. This oath says that an applicant must declare her or his loyalty to the U.S. government, and support and defend the United States Constitution against enemies through military service, noncombatant service or work of national importance under civilian direction. Although applicants must declare allegiance to the United States, it is permissible to become a citizen without agreeing to military service.
Arthur Jost v. The United States legalized citizenship for conscientious objectors. Jost moved to the United States from Canada in 1927 with his Mennonite Brethren family. He performed alternative service as a hospital attendant during World War II. When he applied for citizenship he faced obstacles from judges who were hostile toward pacifism.
This 1954 Supreme Court case clarified that conscientious objectors can be granted citizenship and established the right of individual conscientious objectors to become citizens whether or not they belong to a group that supports their beliefs.
Gaining citizenship can be an intimidating process. Immigrants work hard to complete the paperwork, study for the exam and present a strong case for their citizenship. Many times immigrants are reluctant to even file a statement of conscientious objection, fearing that it will jeopardize their citizenship application.
Makinto-Inandava gained her citizenship without retracting her commitment to peace. She is now a West Coast MCC church community worker in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
"Conscientious objectors need to know that it is okay to stand firm on their belief and refuse to give in to fear and trust God to work it out for them. That's what I did and God honored my commitment to his peaceful ways," she said.
It is important that immigrants understand their options for conscientious objection as the U.S. Army has become more aggressive in its recruitment within immigrant groups. In the past only legal permanent residents (green card holders) or U.S. citizens were able to join the Army. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Army began a new pilot program in February that takes applications from foreigners who are on temporary visas or who have been granted asylum. The stated goal of the program is to recruit people with special language and medical skills.
This timely packet from MCC U.S. can reassure immigrants about their rights as conscientious objectors by explaining laws and documents, giving sample letters for people, and telling citizenship stories. It will help individuals and their counselors gain a better understanding of the laws and procedures for filing a conscientious objection statement with their citizenship application.
To obtain the packet, go to mccstore.org, or phone toll free (888) 563-4676. The packet is $6.99 plus shipping and handling.
For more information on peace education and immigration go to mcc.org/us/programs.
Saulo Padilla is director of the office on immigration for MCC U.S. Titus Peachey is director of peace education for MCC U.S.