Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. 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….” This has traditionally been interpreted to mean that only citizens who were born on U.S. soil should be eligible to become president.
Overview of the Controversy
Several attempts have been made to change the natural-born citizen requirement in the Constitution. Sometimes this has taken the form of proposals to amend the Constitution itself. At other times, legislators have tried to pass laws that expand the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen” so that it includes some naturalized citizens. Supporters of this legislation argue that the constitutional language is outdated, too vague, or even un-American in its discrimination against naturalized citizens. They maintain that it unfairly creates second-class citizens. Opponents of such legislation, however, argue that the founding fathers’ fear of foreign influence over the U.S. government was not only justified in 1789 but is still justified today. They also argue that only citizens born on U.S. soil have the proper lifelong allegiance to the Constitution and to the nation itself.
Background on the Controversy
In 1974, Congressperson John Bingham introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow naturalized citizens to become president. At the time, a Gallup poll of Americans revealed that the person they admired most was Henry Kissinger, Republican President Nixon’s secretary of state and national security adviser. Kissinger had been born in Germany, emigrated to the U.S. at age 15, and was naturalized at age 20. Representative Bingham, a Democrat, denied that his bill was focused on Kissinger, though he did say that Kissinger’s “achievements as Secretary of State have highlighted the problem.” Bingham introduced four bills in 1974 and one in 1977 to repeal the natural-born citizen clause, but all of them failed.