Zócalo Public Square is a magazine of ideas from Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise.
Go, Ted Cruz!
I am very excited that the senator from Texas is running for president, so that we can rid this country of one of its most pervasive myths: that you need to be born on U.S. soil to be a real American.
Admittedly, that is not why most of Cruz’s fervent backers are excited he’s in the race. Or why donors have already sent his campaign tens of millions. The reasons most of them are excited about Cruz’s candidacy — his aversion to compromise in politics, the centrality of God in his political platform, and his disdain for any sensible immigration reform — are precisely the reasons why I would be horrified to see him actually win the race I am so glad he is running. If Ted Cruz ever became president, I’d be tempted to flee to Canada.
Which brings me back to the one thing I love about Ted Cruz: The man was born in Canada!
If his candidacy is taken seriously, and his qualifications aren’t challenged in any of the primary states he contests, Cruz will be joining Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the list of presidential candidates whose campaigns broke barriers for minorities in the political process — in Cruz’s case, for Americans born outside the country.
I am one such “natural-born” American born elsewhere—in Mexico—and it’s been one of my lifelong frustrations to have people question my Americanness, and be utterly ignorant about the fact that you can indeed be born a U.S. citizen outside the country, if born to an American parent. I have nothing but the utmost respect for naturalized Americans who opt to become citizens later in life, but I am not one of them – I was born clenching my blue passport.
Who cares, you might ask, is the only difference between “natural-born” and naturalized Americans — in terms of their rights — is the right to be president? That awkward phrase “natural born” is in the Constitution, listed among the other qualifications for the highest office. Listed, but not defined, which is one of the reasons for all the confusion.
The qualification made its way into the Constitution because the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent their young republic from ever being hijacked by scheming European monarchs. It’s clear from both the prevailing English common law and from the first major law passed by Congress on matters of citizenship in 1790 that “natural-born” citizens included Americans born to an American father in another country. (American mothers, thankfully for me and Sen. Cruz, gained the equal right to transmit U.S. citizenship to their kids by a law passed in 1934.) Federal statutes over time have further defined what it means to be a natural-born American, often requiring a certain period of residency within the United States before an American parent could be entitled to pass on US citizenship to a child born outside the country.
So go on, Senator Cruz (but not too far!), and make everyone understand that you are as American as anyone, qualified (at least on this count) to be our leader. And don’t feel ashamed of your background — tell folks who come to your website where you were born, as opposed to just telling them, as your site currently does, where your mom was born.
Now that I have made clear that I belong in the “natural-born” club, I should add that it is an absurd club. All American citizens should share the same privileges, including the right to lead the nation. It’s shameful that countries like Germany and France are more open to the possibility of a naturalized immigrant becoming their head of state than we are. Can’t we just trust the voters to determine whether presidential candidates are sufficiently American for them?
Andrés Martinez is the editorial director of Zócalo Public Square and a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.