Zakaria: Let naturalized Americans become president
March 19th, 2012
03:38 PM ET

Zakaria: Let naturalized Americans become president

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Hundreds of you have submitted very thoughtful questions for me through FacebookTwitter and my blog. Here is my response to the question: Should people born outside the United States - but now U.S. citizens - be allowed to become president?

I think they should for one very simple reason: I was born outside the United States. I’m only half kidding, but this is the only place where there is a distinction made between naturalized Americans and native-born Americans.

There are scholars who believe that this distinction was made because Thomas Jefferson did not want Alexander Hamilton to become president. Hamilton was born in Nevis.

It does seem an odd distinction to make because nowhere else in America and in no other aspect of American life is there a distinction made between native-born and naturalized Americans.

Naturalized citizens are citizens just like anybody else. They can do everything else Americans can do. They can run for every other office. So why this one exception?

I should hasten to add: It’s not that I want to be president. It's just that I’d rather be in a system where I’m not constitutionally excluded from the top job.

I don't really understand the principle of the matter. Are native-born Americans better than naturalized Americans?

It strikes me that naturalized Americans Sergey Brin, Madeleine Albright, Jennifer Granholm or Gene Simmons are perfectly as American as anyone else.

soundoff (306 Responses)
  1. Miguel Angel Aguilar

    Hmm... It's an interesting question. It's interesting to think of Thomas Jefferson as having a personal bias against Alexander Hamilton becoming president – it really humanizes these almost mythic, historical figures. Perhaps, there is a fear that a naturalized citizen could more easily harbor a greater loyalty for their country of origin – that they could be acting against the best interest of our nation. However, I think it would be remiss to write off the naturalized-native born issue as simply a way to ensure that the president maintains his or her loyalty to the United States. My gut tells me that its a bit immoral to discriminate against naturalized citizens for only one position of public office, when they are able to run for all others. I realize that being President of the United States is not "just another job," but at the same time it seems severely nationalistic (dare I say "cult-like") to have the presidency raised to a sacred standard. Why should we not value other public officials or hold them to the high standard to which we hold the president? Have we as a nation, perhaps, become dependent on the president to fix all of our problems?
    That's another issue, I suppose... but I think that the natural-born vs. naturalized citizen issue is necessary in contemporary political discourse.

    March 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  2. ep tor

    Of course, YES. All other things being equal, why would we want a lesser qualified and/or dumber American be President than the more qualified and smarter one. Without going into specifics, just look at the collections of absolute morons that have held the post in the past few decades – it's a disgrace. I'm sue even some illegal chamber maids or tomato pickers would have done a better job.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:14 am | Reply
  3. rasbury

    Might as well just let some foreigner run our country for all most of you people care. Pathetic. The presidency is to be held by an American. No exceptions. You people will do anything to keep changing our great country until you have ruined it. The people that have spilt blood and went to their graves helping make this great country what it is would be ashamed of anyone even thinking of such a stupid idea.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:52 am | Reply
  4. Sahr

    Some people leave there home land country to go and give birth in other country especially in the US, so there child would have citizenship. That should stop because you are not helping your own country to grow. So to me the US should not allow that to happen, that is why developing country is not growing we are leaving because of this. You do not born in that country and want to become a president NO! go and be president to your own country and help developed your home land.

    March 23, 2012 at 4:20 am | Reply
  5. William Pelegrini

    The freedom, work ethic, respect for family, honor, hiearchy came from Biblical principles. God has blessed America because their founders applied the Scriptures principles on this land. That is why all people were welcome centuries later when the Nation became strong and great. No islam, no hinduism, no mistreatment of women like in India or middle east. The founding fathers knew that people from other parts of the globe with quite different cultures, would come and try to change it. That is why restrictions for foreigners residents and on the case of this article, a restriction for a naturalized citizen. If wasn't like that would be like french revolution, the thing eating itself. I am from Brazil and actually glad I am not like some groups who keep pushing to make the face of this Nation theri face (ugly in my opinion). I can see zacharia as a child and teenager on that miserable place, seem his mom been ignored, attacked. Now this guy has his vanity up to his brains. Man, how rotten is human nature. These people make me angry in how dirty, unfair they are. Look at me. I am adopted by America and i know I have much more heart of an american than zacharia or these other people from india. I share western values, white, christian and exactly because of this background I welcome anyone arabs, hindus, muslims, BUT either you comply, change your ways or please go back where you came from.

    March 23, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
  6. Haha...

    Just in time for the Obama campaign, it could actually be legal for him to be president.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply
  7. Halliburton loophole

    I would say No. if you're that great a leader, return to your country of origin and do something constructive there.

    March 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  8. SteveR

    MOST OF YOU HAVE MISSED THE POINT! Were you all asleep in high school civics class? This is not about being nice to naturalized citizens. It is not about racism. It had nothing to do with Alexander Hamilton.
    The requirement that the President (and Vice-President) of the United States be a Natural-Born Citizen is to protect the US from infiltration by foreign spies, foreign agents, control by foreign governments, influence by foreign interests, etc.
    The leaders of the US must put our national interest first. Someone who is foreign will have ties and interests to another country. The President of the US cannot have divided loyalties.
    Also, very faulty logic to say that being naturalized 2 years ago is too soon, but 10 years ago is okay - where would we draw the line? How else to prevent sleeper agents with anti-US agenda from taking power and selling us out to foreign governments and foreign corporations. This law exists for a very good reason and the vast majority of Americans support it.

    March 23, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • aebe

      Yup.The Founders had the example of England.When the yahoos their became worried that James the Second was going to make the Catholic Religion the state religion,they threw him out and hired his son in law,the dutchman.Was kinda rough on Catholics,but the English did do the sensible thing – went and had their war in Ireland.
      My ancestors were on the losing side,and came to America afterwards.Which made them the winners,sorta.

      Validate your 2nd Amendment Rights.Carry.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  9. Sam

    I read a great deal of the comments but eventually gave up hoping someone would raise the point that popped into my head... SteveR has the main just of what I was thinking, though I don't agree with him completely.

    The issue isn't about the president as an administrator. it's about the president as a representative of the U.S. abroad and as the commander in chief of the armed forces. The president should not have divided loyalties when it comes to negotiations with other countries, much less in the defense of US soil. Some people who might otherwise have been great presidents could be barred because of this, however with at something like 200 million eligible people I don't think it will be all that important.

    March 23, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  10. Ukfml

    Reviewed most of the above comments . Interesting thought . Like Fareed I grew up in India and am fully naturalized but I really have one loyalty I.e. to the US I care deeply about our debt, our dependence on oil, our education crisis and healthcare crisis. I think there are plenty of naturalized citizens that are very patriotic, objective, well read and who truly care for this country's welfare and it's future. While many may disagree some of these individuals also speak more than one language and have a great sense of history and geography. They are articulate and some have been in local governments or even run companies. Their skill sets would be very suitable for the top job. So why not have someone who grew up elsewhere and by experiencing life there and here truly understands the greatness of this nation and is willing to preserve those at any cost. Until Obama became president even his wife said she was not proud of USA. Why not have someone who has seen it both ways. Wisdom is knowledge applied often with compassion.. And we need wisdom in our leaders not just charisma. Let the people decide. Arnold, for whatever it's worth, got a shot at California. Why not someone else at the top. Having said that I think it would be very unlikely for people to vote a naturalized citizen as President in this country . For God's sake we have problems with a Mormon or a black or even a Jew. The best person for the job rarely makes it to the top

    March 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Reply
    • William Pelegrini

      and the best person DEFINITELY is NOT someone from another country ESPECIALLY one like india !
      ahah the last thing America needs is the "experience" of someone from india. Expert in misery, extreme poverty, starvation and disease. Master's degree in corruption and PhD. in mistreating women, with emphasis on violence. get a life dear hindu.

      March 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  11. Tanker10

    No way in H-ll !!!

    March 23, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  12. vistarian2011

    This may be the best solution to America's amazing politics. Fresh untainted talents are badly missing in American politics. Its the same old same old people trying to sway white American voters.

    Question – where in the world today, do you find the voters giving the previous calamitous Government a majority in a decision making Congress? This pooper party brought America's finances to its knees. And the aftermath of a decade's financial squander is still not over yet. The spilling effect of it, and the worst, is yet to come for USA.

    How so easily Americans forget, especially white Americans.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • vistarian2011

      I am neither black nor 'colored'. I am only human, like everyone in this wide wide world.

      March 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Reply
    • Kyle Runkle

      you are an obviously very partisan individual i am a Libertarian so i find BOTH parties disgusting and that both of them are moving in the wrong way on particular issues and i am done voting the lesser of two evils
      RON PAUL 2012
      why have a political outsider when you can have someone in who has been in for 12 terms and who has been fighting this interventionist foriegn policy and runaway spending his entire time while saying the same things for 30 years

      March 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  13. Hispanic132

    Yes point blank. No one has the right to say who is the leader of the free world the people will decide. If we could have crazy presidents like Goerge W. Bush for 8 terms we can have just about anyone that is with reason and wits in office. This world has produced great leaders and we as American should accept not all of them have come from America.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Reply
    • Kyle Runkle

      America's greatness was because of its Liberty. Most other "great" world powers were from domination I do not want some foreigner even running for VP period. Judging by your username you are hispanic obviously for the allowing pf ILLEGAL immigration. an obama supporter and have family that are either in a hispanic country and/or illegal aliens
      this is probably stereotypical but when you have the username Hispanic132 I WILL use stereotypes

      March 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  14. hmmm

    Given the 300+ million folks born in the USA why do we need someone from another country becoming president of the USA? Does anyone else see this happening for all the wrong reasons?

    March 24, 2012 at 1:08 am | Reply
  15. loverlee

    I would vote yes to allowing naturalized citizens run for president with the condition that they have lived here X number of years. My parents moved here when i was 1 years old. My little sister (3 years younger) was born here. Therefore, she would be eligible to run for president, while I would not (even though I basically lived my whole life here).

    March 24, 2012 at 3:09 am | Reply
  16. Get real

    Get a copy of photoshop and realize your dream !

    March 24, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
    • Kyle Runkle


      March 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  17. Tom

    I am a naturalized citizen. But I do not think it's right to let any naturalized citizen to have the right to be the President. Probably it's better to set a minimum number of years (say 25 years) to live in the contry for both the naturala and naturalized citizens to be eligible to run for the top job. Don't worry about me, I won't be eligible for the next 15 years.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  18. Sagebrush Shorty


    March 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  19. joho

    The only true Americans are the indigenious native Red Indians. All other races, especially white haired settlers in America are colonist who almost wiped out the first owners of the land.

    I think its payback time.

    It would be great for other non-white Americans to show them how this country should be run. So many years of extremely controversial management by the "Europeans" have reduced USA to being disrespected by their former overseas admirers. America is no longer a great country – until new talents are admitted into Government. A change outdated cowboy political mindsets is long overdue.

    You know what – people dont talk about history but historically the Europeans conquer, not with their wits, but with guns, cannons and swords. They were merciless in their conquest of the land America.

    March 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Reply
    • Kyle Runkle

      RON PAUL 2012!

      March 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  20. joho

    The most common remarks I hear in the East is this –

    "No more American tourists, they are all bankrupt".

    March 24, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  21. incady

    No, because then Arnold Schwarzenegger will try to run for President.

    March 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • sporky

      Good one! And you know he will...the guy doesn't give up.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  22. rkh235

    I I think that Mr. Zakaria is touching upon a very interesting point. Although I do think that a case can be made both ways for naturalized citizens, I do think that those born in U.S. territories should be able to run for president. Thousands of people spanning the 13 U.S. territories across the globe are born U.S. citizens, given U.S. passports, pay federal taxes, pledge allegiance to the flag and even serve their country in war. They call themselves Americans and give their life as Americans but are unable to run for president, let alone VOTE for a presidential candidate.

    IIn Guam for example, a strategic military stronghold in the South Pacific. There are 2 major hospitals on island- one on the Naval Base that can only be accessed if you have a military badge/related to a military/navy personnel and the other in Tamuning, accessible to the civilian population of Guam. The difference of being born in one hospital over another determines whether or not you could run for President- at the naval hospital you're eligible, at Guam Memorial Hospital you are not.

    Personally, I think this stipulation is archaic and outdated and does not account for the thousands of Americans born in the territories. As an American citizen, whether naturalized or not, living under a democracy means you have the RIGHT to participate in the highest levels of govt- whether that be voting or running. But then again I don't know how far a presidential candidate from the territories can go when their home base population can't even caste a vote.

    March 26, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
    • Kyle Runkle

      They as a people have chosen NOT to become a state them and puerto rico have no right to the perks of statehood without the negatives.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  23. bccream

    Fareed – I am a legal permanent resident and eligible to be a naturalized US citizen. I personally believe in the term "sons of the soil ", unless you are born and raised in the country, you cannot truly understand the culture again that is my personal belief. Otherwise I agree you have valid points such as highly qualified individual like yourself, American being the country of immigrants etc. I am also from India and I do not prefer foreigners running my country although it is sadly the situation in India. I believe all opportunities should be equal but when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong for the country should be matter between the natives.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  24. Michael

    I vote yes, they should be allowed. It doesn't really matter, if you can get yourself nominated and elected it shouldn't matter. Worse come to worse, there is always impeachment.

    The one problem I see is with war, especially all those nukes. Impeachment proceedings are a bit too slow to stop a nuclear launch. So we might have to ban people from places that tend to start wars a lot. Places like Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, Texas...

    March 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • Kyle Runkleic

      do you have any idea how many ant-semitic AND anti-arabic charges would be thrown at someone??? one from each party if someone attempted this.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  25. aebe

    Nope.Bad enough what Americans have done to our country,what would happen after yahoos and terrorists from everywhere else show up wanting to be president.
    Could happen too – look at how poorly vetted the O'Bummer was,by both media and people.

    Validate your 2nd Amendment Rights.Carry.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
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  29. Bill

    I was born in Europe of United States parents born in the US. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, states that a person must be born on the soil of country and of at least one parent who was a US citizen for at least 10 years of which 5 years after the age of 14. Barack H. Obama does not qualify ( his mother was under 19 when he was born).

    April 11, 2014 at 9:51 am | Reply
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