Article

Should Naturalized Citizens Be President?

The Constitution says that only ’natural-born’ citizens can be President. Here, two people present their cases for and against changing that.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

YES

My son, Jonah, came to the U.S. from Vietnam as a 4-month-old baby. When his second-grade class studied the presidency, he was told that he cannot run for President when he grows up, even if he wants to. According to the Constitution, only a "natural-born Citizen" can be President.

More than 12.8 million naturalized citizens, including 250,000 foreign-born adoptees like Jonah, are second-class citizens who cannot hold the highest office in the land.

The natural-born-citizen clause violates a central principle of American democracy: All citizens should have equal rights. When written, the Constitution embraced this principle but failed to protect the rights of women and of racial and ethnic minorities. The 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments have been added to protect these groups. The next step is to remove the natural-born-citizen clause.

The Founding Fathers included the natural-born-citizen clause so no foreign prince could buy his way into the presidency. This concern is no longer relevant. Some people say we still need this clause to ensure that the President is loyal to the country, but naturalized citizens are a very loyal group.

Moreover, the Constitution allows any natural-born citizen, loyal or not, to run for President and relies on voting rights and the judgment of the American people to keep disloyal people from being elected. These protections would work just as well if we let naturalized citizens run for President, too.

John Yinger
Professor of Economics and Public Administration, Maxwell School
Syracuse University

 

NO

America has always been open to foreign-born immigrants becoming full and equal citizens—with one exception: Only a "natural-born Citizen" can become President.

This requirement strikes a reasonable balance between our society's openness and the ongoing requirements of national security.

One of the legal conditions for becoming an American citizen is to be "attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States." New citizens also must take an oath to renounce "all allegiance and fidelity" to other nations and "bear true faith and allegiance" to the United States. But in the case of the presidency we need even more assurance of that allegiance than an oath.

The presidency is unique: One person makes crucial decisions, many having to do with foreign policy and national security. With a single executive, there are no checks to override the possibility of foreign intrigue or influence, or mitigate any lingering favoritism for one's native homeland.

Unlike any other position or office, the attachment of the President must be absolute. Attachment comes most often from being born in—and educated and formed by—this country, unalloyed by other allegiances.

In general, constitutional amendments should be pursued only after careful consideration, when it is necessary to address a great national issue and when there is broad-based support among the American people. That is not the case here.

Matthew Spalding
Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies
The Heritage Foundation

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