As a naturalized American I can stand for any elected public office position with the exception of the presidency. The highest public office in this country has been reserved for only natural born citizens. This requirement is simple but can quickly descend into a rabbit hole of complexity when one considers some special situations.
The Constitution states that “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.” The simple explanation of natural born citizens is one who is born a US citizen without the need for naturalization. This covers all those born on US soil irrespective of the nationality or citizenship status of their parents and those born to both US parents irrespective of location.
Our 44th president and first African American to hold that office had a significant amount of controversy raised on his candidacy. This continued even after his election, his father was Kenyan, but he was born to a US mother in Honolulu, HI. Most considered this resistance and undue negative pressure a veiled racist attack on Barack Obama.
Last week Joe Biden the democratic presidential candidate chose Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate and vice presidential candidate. This puts Kamala as next in line for the presidency should the democrats win in November. Once again some are questioning her eligibility based on the immigration status of her parents. Trump who pushed this birther conspiracy with the Obama presidency failed once again to act like the adult in the room and put this conspiracy to rest. When asked about this, he lauded the qualifications of the law professor who wrote the Newsweek op ed.
One thing that I have learned in life is people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Whilst Barack Obama had the most questions raised on his qualifications for presidency he was not our first nor the last president with immigrant parents.
I would like to introduce you to our past and present presidents with at least one immigrant parent.
Thomas Jefferson served as our second vice presidents and was our third president from 1801 – 1809. He was born on April 13th, 1743 of Jane Randolph Jefferson and Peter Jefferson a Virginia farmer. Jane Randolph was born in 1720 in Shadwell parish, Tower Hamlets, London, England.
Andrew Jackson our 7th president was born on March 15, 1767 in Lancaster, SC of Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson. Both of his parents emigrated from Ireland 2 years before his birth. They were born in Antrim in present day Northern Ireland. I cannot confirm the citizenship of his parents at the time of his birth.
James Buchanan Jr. our 15th president was born on April 23rd, 1791 in Cove Gap, PA to James Buchanan Sr and Elizabeth Speer. The senior James Buchanan was of Ulster Scot descent and emigrated from Milford, Ireland in 1783.
Chester Alan Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur 20th vice president and 21st president was born in 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont. His mother Malvina Stone was born in Bershire, VT. His father William Arthur was born in Dreen, Cullybackey, in the County of Antrim, now in present day Northern Ireland. William was of Scots-Irish descent, the two met whilst he was teaching school in Durham, Quebec.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson served as the 34th governor of New Jersey and our 28th president from 1913 – 1921. He was born in Staunton VA on December 28th, 1856. His father Joseph Ruggles Wilson was born in Steubenville, Ohio. Wilson’s mother Janet Jessie Woodrow was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England.
Herbert Clark Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover, the 31st president of the United States was born on August 10th, 1874 in West Branch, IA to Jesse Hoover a blacksmith and Hulda Randall Minthorn a school teacher from Norwich, Ontario. Hoover’s mother was thus a Canadian immigrant.
Barack Hussein Obama
Barack Obama our 44th president was born on August 4th, 1961 in Honolulu, HI. Barack’s mother Ann Durham was born in Wichita, KS and Barack Obama Sr. was a foreign student from Kenya. After his parents marriage fell apart Barack Sr. returned to Kenya and Barack Jr. was raised by his mother.
Donald John Trump
Our 45th president is an ardent supporter of the conspiracy theories around birtherism. He was born on June 14th, 1946 in New York to Fred Trump an American real estate developer and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump. Mary MacLeod who was born in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. She emigrated to the United States in 1930 and became a citizen in 1942.
Therefore 8 of our 45 presidents including our current president Donald J Trump have parents born outside the United States. It is not unknown for children of immigrants to rise to the highest office in this land. It is interesting that many who followed the birtherism controversy around Obama’s presidency and those writing about vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris never raise any issue with Donald Trump.
These “well meaning Americans” stoking false conspiracies should do well to learn our history. Our current president has a mother who was born in Scotland. The parents of our 7th president Andrew Jackson were both born in Scotland.
Those trading these veiled racially biased conspiracies must come out clearly and state their concerns. It appears to me this birtherism conspiracies is just racism. These individuals including the legal scholars in their midst, must clearly articulate what they appear to be saying. America only recognizes white immigrants as deserving of all the rights that the nation has to offer. Many of my non-white immigrant colleagues are still scratching our heads.
By Dr. Leonard Sowah a physician in Baltimore, Maryland