America is a nation of immigrants. Those born beyond our shores can — and have — risen to every position in this country except one: the presidency. It is time that, as a nation founded more on ideals than on geography, we rectify this situation. We must amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born U.S. citizens to run for president.
This current Constitutional prohibition is a relic of a past time. The founding fathers feared that a newly independent America could be susceptible to a foreign prince coming over and running for president in order to turn this land into his own domain. This is no longer a realistic scenario. We are a confident and established nation with the best military in the world, and there would be many who would stop anyone with such an agenda.
More importantly, the various amendments already proposed would require either 20 or 35 years of citizenship to be eligible for the presidency. It is highly unlikely that someone would come over America with a two-decade plan to be elected president and take over this country. And in today’s day and age, any foreign-born person running for the presidency would be so over-scrutinized that anything possibly suggesting disloyalty would be exposed and would abruptly end his or her candidacy. Honestly, would anyone whose main goal is to subvert America be able to rise through either of our two main parties to become a nominee?
Opponents of allowing foreign-born citizens to become president will still complain about the possibility of double-loyalty. Yet, as a nation in which a large portion of people have another country in living family memory, do we not already run this risk? Many first-generation Americans may still feel a connection to their parents’ homelands, yet we allow them to run. Furthermore, questioning a long-time, but foreign-born, American citizen’s loyalty is similar to suggesting that a Catholic like John F. Kennedy would put the interests of the Vatican first. We moved beyond that in 1960.
Furthermore, as immigrants, foreign-born candidates might even have deeper feelings about America than native-born citizens who sometimes take America for granted. If, as many immigrants do, these people come to America because of a difficult situation in their native lands, they would love America all the more because of the heights to which this country had allowed them to rise. Just look at California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. At his speech at the Republican National Convention, he spilled out his love for America, noting that it was astounding that “a once-scrawny boy from Austria” like himself “could grow up to become governor of the state of California.” Only in America.
By excluding foreign-born citizens, we exclude some of the most talented potential office-holders. Perhaps the best person for the presidency may have been born outside America, and we should not disqualify such leaders because they were born beyond our shores, something entirely outside of their control. Some of America’s greatest public servants have been immigrants.
Momentum is gathering for this change. Many constitutional experts, including Yale’s own Akhil Amar, have come out in support of amending the Constitution. In fact, there have already been amendments proposed in both houses and on both sides of the isle in Congress, including one by the powerful Sen. Orrin Hatch. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chaired, held a hearing on his proposal last October. In the house, congressmen from both parties have proposed a series of bills recently, including one by two Democrats last week. The movement has also gained momentum beyond Capitol Hill. Various Web sites, such as http://www.operationarnold.com/ and http://www.amendforarnold.org/, and a television ad campaign have been launched by private citizens. And in Montana, a Democratic state representative has already called for his state to ratify an amendment. As the Web sites suggest, the success of Schwarzenegger has fueled much of the momentum for this charge, although Hatch claims he proposed his amendment without thinking about the Governator. The Democrats also have someone in mind. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm could very likely become our nation’s first female president if only she had not been born in British Columbia.
Yet this is not about allowing a specific person to become president. This is about erasing perhaps the only occupational discrimination still written into U.S. law. It is about ensuring that our nation, founded on ideas of equality, finally has full equality between immigrants — a major source of our strength — and native-born citizens.
Alex Yergin is a sophomore in Silliman College.