As Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas makes the rounds of states hosting early presidential primaries, his interest in raising his national political profile has renewed an old question in American politics. Can a man born outside the United States serve as president?
Cruz, who has proudly touted his father's flight from Cuba as an immigrant success story, was born to an American mother and a Cuban father in Canada. That's put him, a staunchly outspoken critic of President Obama, in the same curious position as the president. Both of them have faced the "birther" question.
The query cropped up almost immediately after Cruz’s election last year. On the morning after his upset victory, his press secretary mentioned he was already receiving inquiries from media outlets about whether Cruz’s birthplace disqualified him from the presidency.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the matter, but legal scholars generally agree the constitution does not require presidents to have been born in the United States. A report generated by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service essentially concluded that candidates born to American parents in foreign countries met the citizenship requirements for the presidency.
"The weight of more recent federal cases, as well as the majority of scholarship on the subject, also indicates that the term ‘natural born citizen’ would most likely include, as well as native born citizens, those born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents, at least one of whom had previously resided in the United States, or those born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent who, prior to the birth, had met the requirements of federal law for physical presence in the country,” the report said.
In plain English, said Gerald Treece, a constitutional law expert who’s also dean of the South Texas College of Law, "if your parent is a U.S. citizen, then you're eligible to be president."
Perhaps the matter is a natural controversy for people who don’t know the phrase “natural born citizen,” words of great significance that appear in the U.S. Constitution. Fearing foreign influence, particularly from England, the constitution’s framers made it clear they didn’t want foreigners serving as the nation’s chief executive.
Quoth Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution: “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; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
If you think controversies over a president’s citizenship status started with the Obama era, think again. If Cruz does indeed run for president, he will become only the latest in a long line of politicians born in other countries hoping to move into the White House.
Take John McCain, who was born to a naval officer serving in the Panama Canal Zone.
Perhaps the most curious question posed about a presidential candidate’s citizenship in modern times came in 1964. Critics of Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president, argued that he wasn’t qualified for the presidency because he was born in Arizona before the territory was granted statehood.
So if Cruz decides to run for president, he’s bound to face questions from critics about his citizenship. But it seems legal scholars generally believe that -- whether he was born in Canada, Kenya or on the moon – his American parentage makes him meet the citizenship requirements to move into the White House.