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Convicted Pastor Gets US Citizenship

November 25, 1999

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A Canadian-born clergyman whose four-year pursuit of U.S. citizenship had been stymied by a teen-age marijuana conviction has won the right to settle in the United States.

``I’ve always felt like an American and now I’m an American _ it feels like a ton lifted off of you,″ Steven Mullenix said Wednesday from Canada, where he reluctantly returned in August with his wife and two young children. ``I can’t wait to get back to the United States.″

Mullenix, 37, was interviewed by immigration agents last week and learned Tuesday that he had been granted citizenship.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service ``obtained the necessary evidence and the testimony required for him to satisfy the burden of proof,″ a district official said, but declined to discuss the specific reasons for the agency’s change of heart.

Mullenix was suspended for a year from the Assemblies of God for writing an abusive letter to immigration officials last summer. Losing his ministry in Newark, a village near Rochester, forced him to move back to Ontario, where he works in an auto plant.

The church will allow Mullenix to apply again for his ministerial credentials on Jan. 1. Mullenix plans to complete a theology degree, become a chaplain and return to the United States next year to minister at a prison.

The son of an American who moved to Canada at age 14, Mullenix can trace his American lineage to 1671. A distant grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War, and his grandmother still owns a 70-acre farm in Arcanum, Ohio, where their forebears settled 200 years ago.

Mullenix was caught with more than an ounce of marijuana at age 18 in 1981 and spent three months in a Canadian jail. He kicked drugs at 22, turned his life around and had his conviction vacated in 1992.

Under U.S. immigration laws crafted to exclude Nazi war criminals, terrorists and other undesirable people, Mullenix was deemed ``excludable″ for life. Anyone arrested with more than an ounce of banned drugs is viewed as a potential dealer.

Mullenix realized his predicament after moving to New York on a five-year, religious-worker visa in 1995. He sued in federal court to try to force a change in the immigration law but now that he’s won citizenship, he said his lawsuit becomes moot.