As a child, you likely heard the phrase, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” It is a familiar adage expressed by both parents and mentors encouraging children to pursue even their most improbable aspirations.
With hard work and dedication, one can achieve anything they set their mind to, even becoming president.
Unfortunately, this is not always an option for citizens born outside of the United States. Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution inexplicably denies immigrant citizens the opportunity of earning the distinguished title.
I was born in Glazov, Russia, in July 1998 and was brought to America after being adopted at the age of two. I have an early memory of a time when I was in grade school — our teacher had asked us all to stand and announce to the class what we would like to be when we grew up.
I remember standing and proudly declaring I wanted to become the President of the United States. Admittedly, I was only trying to impress a girl sitting next to me and had no real intention of pursuing a career in politics, but that didn’t stop me from proclaiming my future profession to my mother later that day. It was then she explained with soft benevolence because I was not born in America, I was not eligible to run for executive office.
Though I obviously had no intention of actually running for president, I was nevertheless unsettled by the notion of not sharing the same prospects as my fellow classmates. I have no recollection of my time in Russia, and I consider myself as much of an American as someone born a naturalized citizen, yet it appears my own government would disagree.
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution states, “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President…”
Though the term “natural born citizen” was never officially defined, the agreed upon elucidation generally states a citizen is considered natural born if he or she is born within the United States or born abroad to American citizens.
The phrase first appeared on July 25, 1787, in a letter from John Jay, one of the men responsible for the Federalist Papers, addressed to George Washington, where Jay implies concern over the possibility a foreign candidate, should they win an election, may decide to purposefully incapacitate the American government.
Ironically, none of the founding fathers were, by modern definition, “natural born citizens.” On that account, the Natural-Born Clause allowed anyone who was a citizen at the time of the Constitution’s acquisition the ability to run for president. This meant even foreign immigrants such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine, two of the most distinguished and influential politicians throughout the American Revolution, had the option to run for office.
This raises the question — if they needn’t have concerned themselves with such an absurd legal obstacle, why should we?
Recently retired Sen. Orrin Hatch held corresponding sentiments on the issue, as he proposed an amendment in 2003 that revisited the questionable connotations of the Natural-Born Clause. If it had been successful, the Equal Opportunity to Govern amendment would have allowed immigrant citizens of at least 20 years the opportunity to run for office.
While this was a sincere step in the right direction, I question the justification of the 20-year requirement. The argument stems from the understandable, yet nevertheless improper speculation an immigrant citizen of less than 20-years may lack the skills and experience necessary to govern the nation.
While there is justifiable merit to this supposition, I believe the responsibility of determining a candidate’s qualifications rests solely in the hands of the people. If a particular citizen is not suited to govern, the people will take notice and prevent him or her from progressing any further in the election — just as any proper democracy should operate.
It is with great and unwavering confidence I affirm my belief that once an immigrant be made an authorized citizen, they are promptly entitled to the same liberties and opportunities as his or her fellow citizens without needless concern of any further legal hindrances.
If all citizens are to be truly represented as equal, then the very existence of the Natural-Born Clause is paradoxically unconstitutional. The core foundation of American government was implemented by the innovative minds of fervent immigrants and political visionaries who collectively dreamt of leading a united syndicate of doughty patriots to liberation.
Therefore, it is only fitting American immigrants be allowed the opportunity to lead this country once again.