Friday, March 11, 2016

Natural born citizen?

I don’t generally blog about politics. But I am completely baffled on this one, and don’t really understand why it isn’t an enormous big deal: Why is someone who was born in Canada running for president of the United States?

As many of you know, I will never be president of the USA. I was born in South Africa, to parents who were both South African citizens, and only became a citizen of the USA 3 days before H4 was born. (They let me waddle to special seating where I could think about whether my practice contractions were likely to make the swearing-in ceremony even more memorable.) I certainly don’t fulfill the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen” – clearly, for the first 32 years of my life, I was a natural born citizen of South Africa, and now am no more than a citizen of the USA.

My brother’s “natural born”-ness as a citizen of South Africa is a little more interesting. He is currently a South African citizen, and is officially South African by birth, as opposed to South African by descent. But my mom, talented woman that she is, managed to give birth in Israel to a son who was South African by birth. How did she achieve such a far-reaching accomplishment? At the time of my brother’s birth, my dad was serving in the South African Embassy in Israel. The only reason for our family’s presence in Israel was my dad’s service to the government of South Africa. This fact accounted for my brother’s status. Had we been in Israel on business or vacation when he was born, he would still have been South African, but by descent, not by birth.

Fast forward a generation, and let me take up the case of my utterly adorable niece, baby S. My brother married a US citizen while working on his Ph.D. in Toronto. My sister-in-law moved to Toronto after their marriage, and together they discovered that when it rains, it pours. My brother spent last fall celebrating his shiny new degree, welcoming baby S, and preparing to move to Israel. They applied for S’s U.S. passport right away, since it’s obviously easiest for Mom and Baby to travel on the same country’s passport. But at this point, it isn’t immediately obvious what S’s long-term citizenship will be. Here are 4 possible scenarios:

(1) They remain in Israel indefinitely. I suppose it could happen – they’re really happy there, and though they aren’t planning to stay, my brother’s current university might extend an offer he can’t refuse. Certainly baby S would retain her US citizenship, but as an adult she might be tempted to begin the arduous process of a non-Jewish person obtaining Israeli citizenship. I don’t think this is likely, but it’s not completely impossible. That way she’d end up with dual US and Israeli citizenship.

(2) This one is even less likely. But if a university in South Africa were to offer my brother an amazing position at the same time as a phenomenal design company in South Africa recruited my sister-in-law, they might be convinced to move to South Africa. Baby S would then be entitled to South African citizenship by descent, and could have dual South African and US citizenship.

(3) Here’s a more likely option than either of the previous two: my brother or sister-in-law accepts a job in Canada. In that case, if baby S grows up in Canada, I assume she would be eligible for Canadian citizenship on the basis of her birth. Would that make her a natural born Canadian? I don’t know, since neither parent is a Canadian. But in any case she could hold on to dual US and Canadian citizenship, or even abandon the US citizenship and be purely Canadian (if, say, Trump becomes president…).

(4) Another real possibility is that they move to the USA after the year in Israel, and baby S grows up there. She retains her US citizenship and never needs another. Once she reached adulthood, her citizenship would not be in doubt – she would have no reason to obtain the citizenship of any other nation.

Any of these 4 scenarios could happen – with varying degrees of likelihood based on my brother and sister-in-law’s inclinations and extended families’ locations. At this point, baby S’s ultimate citizenship status is in doubt in a way that none of my children’s is (mine were all born in the USA, two while both parents were citizens, and have lived here all their lives). Baby S is a born citizen of the USA, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to describe her as a natural born citizen when that level of doubt exists.

In case you missed it, the situation with presidential candidate Ted Cruz is very similar to that of baby S in scenario 4. He was born in Canada to a US citizen mother and non-US, non-Canadian father. They were not in Canada on official US government business, but with the oil industry. He returned to the USA as a child, grew up here, and once he reached adulthood his undivided US citizenship was not in doubt. But his situation as a baby mirrored that of baby S today. At that time, he was still in Canada, and could have followed scenario 3. Or what if his family had moved to Cuba – or, say, Venezuela, to follow the oil industry? Then he might have been more like baby S in scenarios 1 or 2. When he was a baby, his future citizenship was not clear-cut. This makes it hard for me to accept that he is a natural born citizen. Citizen, yes, and born citizen, but natural?

Can anyone help me understand why the Republican Party leadership is so certain he can get away with this? The only theory I can come up with is that most Americans have so little respect for Canada that they genuinely forget that it is a foreign country.

(In case you’re going to ask me, yes, I recognize that this post has a “the dwarves are for the dwarves” flavor about it – I’ve used my Facebook to argue that evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump, and here I’m attacking Cruz. But I’m hoping for a brokered convention, and voted for Kasich in that hope. It could happen – maybe Trump’s rage gives him a heart attack and Cruz’s run is declared unconstitutional or at least makes the party nervous about supporting him? Miracles do happen.)


  1. My understanding is that this is controversial, because it's never been clearly defined. I've read arguments both ways, based on various concepts and legal traditions. I think most people tend to accept being born with citizenship as "natural born", in which case Cruz is in. But some argue differently, so it's a little hazy. There's room for a legal challenge, which would likely have to be decided in the Supreme Court. I'm not super knowledgeable, but there are lots of discussions out there if you want to see different sides.

    I'm just waiting for this election to go even crazier. Like say Trump finally implodes, Cruz and Clinton take the respective nominations, Cruz faces a legal challenge about the meaning of "natural born", Hilary gets brought up on charges over the classified emails, and the country just sits there going, "What just happened?"

    But I agree: If by some miracle Kasich got the nomination, I would absolutely vote for him. But I think it's going to take a huge miracle at this point. I'm amazed he's still in the race. I'm used to the people I like (i.e.: relatively polite and moderate conservatives) getting little attention in the primaries. I have a feeling that a brokered convention might go to either Cruz or Rubio.

    1. I wonder just how many people would genuinely prefer the "relatively polite and moderate conservatives" but instead vote for the lesser of two weevils, thereby almost guaranteeing a weevil...

    2. This gets into my usual rant about how the plurality voting system we use is an awful, terrible thing that should be killed, but that if we can't convince people that vaccines are good how can we possibly convince them to use a voting system that involves someone use math to tally the votes? But that rant can go on for a bit, so I won't pollute your blog.

    3. :-) Ever since voting at Caltech, where we got to rank the candidates, I've been convinced that it's a superior system. (You could even have "NO" win by a landslide, forcing a new election.) It would take a certain amount of re-educating the voters...

  2. How about this to complicate things for your list of options for baby S :)
    1. Baby S's mother, Char, is ethnically Jewish (her own mother is Jewish) and thus baby S could possibly apply for Israeli citizenship based her heritage. (Complicated by Char being a believer in Jesus and hence seen in the eyes of the Israeli government as no longer Jewish - irrespective of the actual legitimacy of such a stance.)
    2. I could probably get SA citizenship for S, but since I didn't register her within a month of her birth it would be more difficult, especially if she already has another citizenship. I bet she could get SA citizenship should she ever need it, but at this point she would have to fight for it.
    3. S is already a Canadian citizen! I registered her the moment we got home from the hospital. She got her Canadian passport 3 weeks after she was born. I suspect she was one of the youngest Canadians ever to have a passport. And the cutest/tiniest passport photo. (Which still lasts for 5 years, when she will look nothing like her 2 week old self...).
    4. Moving to the US is the most likely of the four options (barring a Trump presidency - me being an evil immigrant and all that) and S is already a dual citizen who has traveled to four different countries (impressive for a 5 month-old). And, regardless of whether she is eligible to become president of the US, as a loving father I will do my best to dissuade from it...

    1. Thanks for the additional insight, Paul! I wasn't sure if you'd gotten S Canadian citizenship, but it's fun that you did - two passports before she was two months old! There's an accomplishment to be proud of.

  3. To answer your question- I have no idea, except that one parent was a US citizen at the time of his birth and he has grown up in the US.

  4. This is from Ant Greenham: Unfortunately, humility, wisdom and true leadership are conspicuous by their absence in this campaign. I would have thought that the kind of doubt which Cruz's birth raises would move a truly godly man to attempt to serve this country in a less ostentatious way. But I guess my saying this means I don't agree with Duck Dynasty's endorsement of Cruz as godly (and certainly not as humble, wise or exemplary).