Henry Kincaid : 26/09/2017
As we now look onto the year 2020, in which the next president of the United States will be elected, we too must look at who is eligible for the role, as well as who deserves the honour of becoming what is arguably the most important human being on the planet.
The constitution sets out only three requirements for the presidency: the candidate must be at least 35 years of age, a resident of the United States for 14 years, and must have been born within the borders of the country itself, otherwise known as a ‘Natural Born Citizen’.
A ‘Natural Born Citizen’ is never defined within the constitution itself, nor is it mentioned in the notes of the 1787’s Federal Convention, but the phrase may have seen its first use in one of John Jay’s letter to George Washington. In particular, the phrase may have originated from the line, “devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen,”. There was a strong, and reasonable fear that European aristocracy may attempt to acquire American citizenship, and without having any personal goal of supporting the new country, run for president, thereby putting the whole American project at risk. As such, the clause pertaining to a ‘Natural Born Citizen’, seen in Article 2 of the constitution, is generally recognised as referring to a citizen who was born within the boundaries of the country itself (or land that would go on to become American property).
It is important to note that there are a number of exceptions to this law, particularly in the case of those who were born in foreign countries, but of at American parents; Ted Cruz, for example, when announcing his bid to run as Republican nominee in early 2015, was the centre of a large debate regarding whether or not he was eligible to run. Cruz, who was born in Calgary, Canada, had a native-born American mother, granting him American citizenship. His father, born in Cuba, was naturalised in 2005. As Canada gives all of those who were born within the country’s borders citizenship, Cruz was technically a Canadian-American right up until May of 2014, when he formally requested that his Canadian citizenship be revoked. In February 2016, the Illinois Board of Elections confirmed Cruz’s eligibility, as well as his citizenship. They stated, “The candidate is a natural born citizen by virtue of being born in Canada to his mother who was a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth.”
Every president so far was either a citizen at the time of the Constitution’s adoption in 1789, or was born within the United States; of those who fall into the second category, seven had at least one parent who was not born in the country.
The ‘Natural Born Citizen’ clause discriminates against millions of naturalised American citizens; according to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2014 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received over 770 thousand applications for citizenship and naturalised 653 thousand people, down from nearly 780 thousand the year prior, however; over the course of two years, the US naturalised over 1.4 million people, which goes to show just how many naturalised citizens live in the country.
The year is now 2017, and the United States has existed for 241 years, there is no longer a great threat of foreign dignitaries or aristocrats partaking in the entire citizenship process just so that they can run for office, have the chance of winning the election, and turn the United States into a vassal of a foreign power. One could argue that political corruption is prevalent enough to make such an effort the most impractical means of securing power, and at the very least the most long-winded and difficult.
It is important at this point to note that a naturalised citizen can achieve nearly any other position of power in the United States. From House Representative to Chief Justice, and from Secretary of State to Senate Majority Leader, any of these roles, and more, can be fulfilled by a non-natural-born citizen. Perhaps the most infamous Secretary of State of all time, Henry Kissinger, was born in Germany to German-born parents; Kissenger has never even lost his German accent.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born actor and professional bodybuilder, and generally one of the most famous figures of the late 20th century, worked as Governor of California for nearly 10 years, from 2003 to 2011. While his career as Governor was often fraught with controversy, he did sign the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, creating the country’s very first cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2003, a bill titled ‘The Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment’, was revealed. The proposed bill would allow foreign-born, naturalised American citizens to run for the White House. Also known as the Amend for Arnold bill, or Hatch Bill (in reference to the bill’s primary author, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah), it is generally considered to be a bill that would allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for office, however; among giving millions of citizens the opportunity to take a swing at being voted into the most powerful position on earth, it would also allow prominent American politicians such as Governor Jennifer Granholm (MI), Secretary of Transportation Elain Chao, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, among countless others, to run for office as well. The bill failed, despite a large amount of money spent on advertising and TV spots, and while it reappeared in 2015, it has now, once again, gone dormant.
In response to this proposed bill, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, during a 2004 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee related to the bill, can be quoted as saying, “I don’t think it is unfair to say the president of the United States should be a native-born citizen,”, followed by, “Your allegiance is driven by your birth.”. As detailed in a previous article of mine, I covered the story of Thomas Paine, American Founding Father and revolutionary, a man who also happens to be the perfect refutation of Feinstein’s comments. Paine, as a British citizen, fought against the British control of the Thirteen Colonies during the Revolutionary War. While not a soldier himself, Paine played a pivotal role as the propagandist of the revolution, producing perhaps his most famous work, Common Sense, as a means of motivating the residents of the colonies against the British. He provided a similar role, albeit less successfully, in Revolutionary France during the 1780s and ’90s.
On a similar, yet distinctly different point, Adolf Hitler annexed his own home country of Austria in 1938, once again proving that one’s place of birth does not necessarily infer an allegiance to it. While one could argue that by annexing Austria, Hitler became its leader, and in doing so must have been supporting Austria, however; the opposite may be closer to the truth. As with Germany, and all other lands controlled by the Nazis during the prewar and world war period, the Nazis removed significant personal freedoms, and destroyed all sense of independent nationality. It is fair to say that, at least during this period of time, Austria ceased to exist, and all at the hands of a man who was born within its borders.
In addition, there are countless examples of betraying one’s own country, even in America; from the Oklahoma Bomber, Timothy McVeigh, to the Weather Underground of the 1970s. Even in Europe, there are many examples of native-born citizens leaving their home countries to fight for foreign terror cells, more often than not, Jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria.
For better or for worse, it does appear that nationality, in both legal and general terms, does not necessarily imply any emotional connection, nor any allegiance to said country.
With this in mind, not only is Feinstein’s argument untrue, but also dangerous; it suggests that immigrants can have no strong connection to a country other than the country they were born in, even in the case of immigrants who, after decades of residence, have become naturalised citizens of their new country. This can achieve very little other than xenophobia targeted at fellow citizens and immigrants, all because of an irrational and ill-conceived notion of regressive nativity.
Feinstein’s comments also minimises the danger that domestic terrorism can play, as her words can be read as suggesting an innate preference towards one’s own country of origin is ever-present; if one’s “allegiance is driven by birth”, there is the strong chance that one is incapable of establishing an allegiance to something other than their birthplace; the real-life presence of domestic terrorism, in which a citizen commits an act of terror towards another citizen within their country’s borders, does nothing but refute Feinstein’s argument.
The constitution’s open discrimination against naturalised citizens in this regard is not only unfair and unjust, but inconsistent; as mentioned previously, a naturalised citizen can hold literally any other position in politics besides presidency and vice presidency. Theoretically, you could have an entire Congress populated exclusively by foreign-born double agents; in this situation, the nativity of the two highest politicians in all the land would do nothing to stop the potential damage of a foreign controlled Congress.
Regardless of positive intentions, the Natural Citizen clause is a very poor and extremely discriminatory way of dealing with a problem that, while present, is minimal, and could be dealt with in a far more constructive and appropriate manner.
As stated in then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 speech titled “The America We Love”, the former president stressed that an “essential American idea” is that “we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will.”. Unfortunately for those of a foreign background, for those who are naturalised citizens but not lucky enough to have been born in the States, the accident of birth does constrain them.
The case for a foreign-born president is, paradoxically, not because they are foreign born, nor is it necessarily because they should be president, but rather for the potential of one. The case is not so much for a foreign-born president at all, but rather for the opportunity of a foreign-born president to exist, and primarily for any naturalised citizen’s right to run, no matter their creed, colour, religion, sexual preference, gender, or country of origin. It would be the right of all American citizens.
Featured Image Credit: (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Sources: http://www.ushistory.org/documents/constitution.htm http://www.constitution.org/abus/pres_elig.htm http://www.presstelegram.com/article/ZZ/20070518/NEWS/705189890 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42097.pdf http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/naturalization-trends-united-states#historical https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/2004-12-02-schwarzenegger-amendment_x.htm https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/06/the_america_we_love.html