Foreign-born presidents: Why not?

Those who have lived here and share “American” values are qualified to lead us.

What would it take for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to become president of the United States?

As it turns out, a constitutional amendment or a pretty hefty law. Such proposals are working their way through the U.S. Senate right now.

U.S. presidents must be at least 35 years old and “natural-born” citizens – meaning they were actually born in the United States. Naturalized citizens, such as Schwarzenegger, as well as foreign children adopted by U.S. citizens, don’t qualify. Many think that should change. They’re right.

It makes sense to allow children who were raised by Americans and who have lived in the United States their whole lives to aspire to the presidency. After all, many think of our society as a melting pot – we are a nation of immigrants, and those who have lived here and have shared “American” values are certainly qualified for consideration to lead us. The situation becomes trickier with those who became citizens as adults.

If an amendment passes that allows people not born in this country to become president, it must still lay out citizenship requirements. The amendment or law must give a thoughtful, if arbitrary, number of years of citizenship required before becoming president. Suggestions have ranged from 20 years to 35 years for this requirement.

It is also important that the president claim citizenship exclusively to the United States. In this area, Schwarzenegger would fail – he maintains dual citizenship of the United States and his native Austria. If a citizen is serious about being the president of the United States, it is reasonable to ask that he or she be exclusively “American.”

Clearly, times have changed since the framers of the Constitution deemed only natural-born citizens able to hold the highest office in the land. A change allowing foreign-born, patriotic, qualified leaders with the country’s best interests at heart to become president is certainly in the tradition of the U.S. multinational heritage and the U.S. dream.