Tuesday, September 21, 2004

How American should you be to become President? -Part II

This is part two of a three-part blog concerning the proposed constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens the right to become President of the United States and my feelings about the proposal and topic.

Part II:

In Part I it was established that foreign-born citizens have been a staple of American government for quite some time. In fact their involvement in government spans most job positions with the exception of the Nations highest office, the office of the President. This is mainly due to Article II of the Constitution of the United States, which forbids any non-naturally born Citizen from becoming president of the United States.

So what were the conditions and thinking at the time which required the framers of the constitution to take such a position.

It is important to note that during the time the founders were putting together the United States Constitution the United States was much more vulnerable then it is today. The founders still had vivid memories of living under British rule. Also from a historical perspective they were aware of the chaos that was created when various European countries meddled in the affairs of other countries. A "foreign" influence in the Nations highest office might result in economic insecurity and/or war.

The framers were genuinely afraid of foreign subversion. The prospect of a European noble using his money and influence to sway the Electoral College, and return the young republic to a royalist fold. Keep in mind several European figures were quite popular in the New World, including Frances Marquis de Lafayette the Revolutionary war hero.

Now more than 228 years later the constitutional ban is being perceived as outdated. The argument that a foreign-born president would have an actual or perceived bias toward their country of birth is seen as a weak argument given the public and media scrutiny that goes with every presidency today. Certainly any foreign-born president would be impartial toward his or her country of birth given this fact, or they would be driven out of office. Others argue in parallel that refusing immigrants the right to hold the nations highest office creates a second-class citizen and violates all ideals of equality. After all is not the American dream centered on the ideal that every American citizen has equal potential? Currently about 11 percent of the U.S. population, were born outside the United States. That means that about 1 in 10 U.S. residents cannot run for president.

Further debate is centered on the wording of the constitution. The constitution states that only a "natural born citizen" can become president. Although it is generally accepted that birthright citizenship includes both those born on U.S. soil and overseas to U.S. citizen parents, it was not always the case. It was not until 1790 that Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which gave citizenship to children born overseas but only when the father was a citizen. In 1934, it was extended to include giving citizenship to children whose mothers were American citizens. Whether people born in those circumstances can serve, as president has never been decided because it has never been challenged. The constitution does not specifically say that you have to be born in the United States, so what the term "natural born" means is somewhat debatable, but the informal interpretation that we all accept has never been tested. Had Senator John McCain been nominated, we may have had our first big test as he was born to American parents in the Panama Canal Zone.

Opponents have their arguments as well. At a time when many are concerned about terrorist sleeper cells, is it not reasonable to believe that some nation-state or terrorist group might take advantage of such a loophole? The key reason the Founders included the natural born citizen clause in the Constitution was to help protect the nations most powerful office against foreign interest? Has this threat really ever gone away? The original constitution contemplated a relatively weak Presidency, which is the case in many countries around the world today. This office has now become the most powerful in the world. The one area of Presidential authority that is virtually unchecked and uncheckable is the President’s power as Commander in Chief of the Army. Can a foreign-born citizen be safely entrusted with this power?

So how do contemporary arguments for and against a constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens to become president hold up against criticism? Which are valid, which are invalid, and what is my opinion? I shall put these arguments to the test as well as present a new argument into the fold that I have yet to see published in Part III.

End of Part II
Posted by mightymerk, 6:30 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home