Rev. Dr George Hancock-Stefan

If you come to the United States as an immigrant, there are two steps to become a citizen. The first one is receiving a green card. This happens anywhere from 2-5 years after you arrive. You can leave the US and travel around the world with a green card, but it is not the safest way to go because it is a transitory document. In my travels as a youth, I had a few mishaps because some countries require you to have a visa with your green card, and others do not. The second major event comes after you take a citizenship test and go to an interview. New citizens attend a swearing-in ceremony, which is celebrated by friends and family and covered in local newspapers. The swearing-in is usually done by a judge or a United States senator.

When one takes the citizenship test, one is required to read English and pass a test on American history and civics. In contrast, you can receive a ballot for voting in some states in a variety of languages. Many people who are United States citizens cannot speak or read English. In some cases, someone else took the test for them or translated for them when they took the test.

In applying for citizenship through naturalization, there are 8 steps. I will mention these 4:

Be able to read, write, and speak basic English

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Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of US history and government

Demonstrate a loyalty to the principles of the US Constitution

Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance

In 2018, the state of California added six more languages to the 12 that already had printed ballots. The new languages are Panjabi, Hmong, Syriac, Armenian, Persian, and Arabic. California is hardly alone—states like New York and Pennsylvania are considering adding ballots in additional languages too. When I talked about this issue with some of my colleagues, they told me I should be glad that more people are able to vote. While I am glad that they can vote, I was grieved to discover that they became citizens by skirting the process, or lying and cheating. The saddest part is that people in the government know that this is happening, and encourage people to gain citizenship this way. I do not know what percentage of people did this, but we had to print ballots in other languages because so many of our citizens cannot read the language that they took their citizenship test in.

While there have been language provisions at the polls since 1975, there was a great expansion during this election cycle. I am not looking to condemn individual people, but I do want to talk about the concept of allegiance. The United States Oath of Allegiance declares that when one become a United States citizen, they renounce any allegiance to previous countries and governments.

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Despite this oath, I find that many people in this country still hold allegiance to other nations or groups of people. They even try to persuade the US government to take positions that are beneficial to other countries. During the past year, many Jewish and evangelical lobbies called for President Trump to move the United States embassy to Jerusalem. After the 2020 election, articles such as “Muslims and Arab Votes May Have Secured Biden’s Michigan Win” were published. The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was very pro-Biden, and they estimated that Biden received 69% of the American Muslim vote. Dearborn has the largest Muslim population in the country, so it is indeed possible that the votes from that one city brought Biden to victory in Michigan. It is also true that President Trump took many anti-Muslim positions during his presidency, which did not help his cause (although the number of Muslims voting for him in 2020 was higher than in the previous election).

Is there a possibility that in our attempt to be kind, inclusive, and welcoming, we are going against what we think should happen when a new person comes here? If we break our own rules and laws when people become citizens, are we suggesting that people can break laws here in the United States? Are we hinting that people can ignore our laws and come here illegally and become citizens illegally, but then we expect them to observe our laws after that?

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George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...