Should Natural Born Citizenship Be a Requirement for All Federal Elected Offices?
On February 27, 2019 at a speaking engagement held at a Washington D.C. bookstore, newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar stated, with apparent reference to both American Jews and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ("AIPAC"), "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." This comment followed recent tweets from Omar suggesting that American elected officials were "bought off" by the pro-Israel lobby, and earlier tweets from before she was elected, beseeching Allah to punish Israel for its "evil deeds."
The tweets were roundly condemned as dog whistle anti-Semitism both by conservatives and members of her own party. However, the greater question raised by Omar's conduct before and after her election pertains to the path that brought her to the United States as a young refugee from a war-torn country on the Horn of Africa and ultimately lead to her becoming a powerful elected official. In an attempt to defend or minimize Omar's statements, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered, "She didn't have a full appreciation of how [her words] landed on other people where these words have a history and cultural impact that might have been unknown to her."
The import of Pelosi's comments is clear. Omar comes, as an immigrant, from a different cultural milieu, and she could not be expected to understand how Americans, given our culture and history, would interpret her statements. Whether joking about the American view of terrorist organization al Qaeda, dismissing the notion that America is a "Christian" nation, or referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as "some people did something," Omar's apparent indifference to American culture and history has been showcased on multiple occasions.
It is fitting, albeit ironic, that Omar, a naturalized American citizen, by raising an accusation of dual loyalty and self-dealing against other Americans, has opened the door to a conversation about whether natural born citizenship should in fact be a requirement for the very office she holds.
Under Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, natural born citizenship is a requirement for eligibility to run for President; the section provides:
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.
Natural born citizenship is defined generally as citizenship by birth as opposed to naturalization. Prior to the inclusion of this requirement, John Jay, member of the Constitutional Convention wrote to George Washington the following in 1787:
Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born Citizen.
In contrast, Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution require only citizenship for seven and nine years respectively, and residency in the United States, for eligibility to run for Congress or Senate. Accordingly, immigrants such as Ilhan Omar who became citizens through naturalization are able to serve in Congress and the Senate, but could not serve as President of the United States.
Immigration has long been the life-blood of this nation. Until 1875 the United States had a virtual "open borders" immigration policy with no significant restrictions to entry. Between 1836 and 1914 over 30 million immigrants from Europe came to the United States, along with smaller numbers of others from Asia and the Middle East. The years between WWI and the mid-1960s saw immigration restricted primarily to western and northern Europeans. However, regardless of the restrictiveness or permissiveness of this nation's historical immigration policies, all who came were subject to the expectation that they would adopt American culture as their own and they would become loyal, patriotic citizens. Teddy Roosevelt stated what was the historical paradigm for immigration when he wrote in 1907:
In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.
With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, all country of origin restrictions were lifted, and the criteria for immigration was liberalized, opening the door for a dramatic increase in family-related "chain migration" from non-European nations. European immigration decreased from 60% of total immigration in 1970, to only 15% in 2000. Additionally, the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 increased total immigration by 40%. The nation also hosts upwards of 12 million foreign nationals who have made entry and reside with our borders unlawfully, otherwise known as "illegal immigrants."
While our immigration laws have been liberalized, the entitlement state has been vastly expanded and the civil rights movement has evolved into a relentless focus on "diversity," "multi-culturalism" and "immigration reform," which is simply another way of stating "amnesty," a "pathway to citizenship," and voting rights.
The T.R. paradigm of assimilation is broken. The proliferation of defiantly unassimilated migrant communities is becoming the new normal, and their existence is championed and celebrated by the progressive left as evidence of a more highly evolved and tolerant society. The same progressive left is also engaged in a war of historical revisionism, removing literally and figuratively, the legacy of one historical American leader and icon after another, deeming them all to be unacceptable by today's politically correct standards. The America of the Founding Fathers is being redacted out of existence.
All of this brings us back to Congresswoman Omar. She is not an aberration; she is the future. In spite of the condemnations of her many inflammatory remarks, or perhaps because of them, she had a record-breaking first quarter of 2019, raking in over $2 million in contributions. She is committed to opposing President Trump on the entirety of his agenda, and unambiguously supportive of impeachment, should such an initiative gain momentum.
A fatal shortcoming of conservatives when faced with progressive, liberal opposition, has been the failure to advance an agenda. The GOP and conservatives generally have reacted to or ineffectually defended against liberal initiatives, or alternatively they have adopted watered down liberal initiatives and presented them as their own. This amounts to the slow, inexorable surrender of all that has made America great.
If the requirement for natural born citizenship is not extended to all federally elected offices, we will probably see, in our lifetime, its elimination as a requirement for any. Simply stated, the very notion of American citizenship is under attack. Fighting to reinvigorate it by making the requirement of natural born citizenship apply equally for all federally elected positions is neither reactionary nor intolerant. It would be an important step to protect the Republic, and it is a conversation we must have.
Dean Malik is a Marine Corps war veteran, attorney, and former criminal prosecutor. He hosts a weekly conservative radio show Fridays at 12:00 p.m. on WWDB 860 AM in Philadelphia.