No one was born a Penn student. We all descended onto Locust Walk at different points in our lives, ready to embrace the Red and Blue. Bit by bit, we learned the meaning of being Penn kids. Some of us spend more time in Huntsman GSRs than in our Harnwell apartments. Many of us crave Wawa every Friday night at 3 am. For others, their Greek chapter represents their Penn experience.
Yet, we all follow Penn’s meme page on Facebook. We are all Penn students who understand, critique, and laugh at details in our collective culture.
Being American is much the same. No one was born with a deep reverence for our liberal democracy, a love of apple pie, or even an American accent. Citizens learned to love the country, including those that arrived later, slowly building up their identities in the same way.
And this is not just a heart-warming story of learning to love diners, hot dogs, and baseball — the process of becoming American is recognized by law. Citizenship is the ultimate measure of devotion to a nation. Once an immigrant becomes a citizen, they are by definition a loyal, uncompromising American and legally recognized as such. In fact, all prospective citizens must take the “Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.”
The Constitution bans naturalized citizens from running for president, weakening the oath entirely. Immigrants enthusiastically declare that they “entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty.” The natural-born clause turns around and spits at them, “I still don’t really believe you.”
All Americans should have equal rights in every single legal realm. This, in itself, is constitutionally guaranteed. Many legal scholars have argued that the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause provides equal protection to all citizens, and Supreme Court cases have ruled that discrimination based on national origin is presumptively unconstitutional.
At Penn, we do not bar transfer students from running for president of the Undergraduate Assembly, or sitting on University Council, or any representative role in administration. To do so would be absurd — once students transfer, they become full members of the University, and they learn the ins and outs of being Penn kids just like everyone else. If anything, their decision to transfer speaks more to their love of and loyalty to Penn.
Plus, the optics of an immigrant president would be spectacular, completely affirming the ideals that this country was founded on — a great nation built up by attracting the best and brightest talent from around the world, all united under one American dream of freedom and opportunity.
Originally, the purpose of the natural-born clause was to impose a barrier against interference from foreign governments in the presidential election, according to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.
It also made much more sense within the context of the signing of the Constitution. The colonies had just broken free from the tyranny of Great Britain — taking precautions to prevent another King George from taking over was necessary.
Now, all it does is bar people like Madeleine Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia, arrived on a boat at Ellis Island with her family, and gained U.S. citizenship at age 20, from serving in the highest elected office. She was the nation’s first female Secretary of State, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. In her career as the country’s number one ranking diplomat, her loyalty was not questioned when she represented the United States in negotiations. So why, then, does the Constitution allow her to safeguard U.S. interests and dramatically shape foreign policy, but only if she’s not behind that desk in the Oval Office?
Henry Kissinger. Alexander Hamilton. Eleven current members of Congress. All immigrants whose loyalties were not questioned when representing vital American interests.
In 2020, we see a child of immigrants running. Kamala Harris represents the celebration of the American immigrant story — a story that applied to almost every citizen at one point.
History had a reason to fear foreign tyranny. But history has also shown what makes America great — a nation built by immigrants where all Americans are treated equally. Just like at Penn, everyone has the potential to lead and serve, no matter what they did before Penn. The United States is one of the few countries where almost everyone is an immigrant or descended from one. Let’s celebrate it, not fear it.
LUCY HU is a College junior from Auckland, New Zealand, studying political science. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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