‘Birthers,’ natural-born citizens (like President Obama), and the law

I’m reluctant to offer any comments on the absurd controversy over the adequacy of President Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate. But according to some polls Donald Trump is now leading the likely candidates for the Republican nomination for president on the strength of his baseless demand that President Obama produce a better birth certificate than the one routinely and repeatedly provided by the state of Hawaii.

Despite the verification of the birth certificate by every relevant state official in Hawaii, including Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s Republican governor until this past December, despite announcements of Barack Obama’s birth published in the Honolulu newspapers back in 1961, despite the testimony of many who knew Barack Obama’s parents in Hawaii, including the current Governor Neil Abercrombie, and who clearly remember the birth of their son in 1961, a significant segment of Republican voters seem to be susceptible to the obviously false suggestion that President Obama was not born in the U.S., is not an American citizen, and is therefore an illegitimate president.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that, “No person except a natural born Citizen” at least 35 years old, and 14 years a resident within the U.S. shall be eligible for the office of President. The Constitution does not define a natural born citizen. Nor does it say that only someone born in the U.S. is a natural born citizen.

Under current law, persons born outside the U.S. to American parents are automatically U.S. citizens at birth as long as one of the American parents has actually lived in the U.S. Thus John McCain was eligible to run for president in 2008 despite having been born to U.S. parents in the Panama Canal Zone. Similarly, Mitt Romney’s father George Romney was eligible to run for president in 1968 despite having been born to American missionary parents in Mexico.

If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, and the other an alien, current law still provides that their child born outside the U.S. is born a U.S. citizen as long as the citizen parent has resided in the U.S. for 5 years, at least 2 of which are after the age of 14. But prior to 1986, the requirement was that the U.S. parent have resided in the U.S. for 10 years, at least 5 of which were after the age of 14. This is the hook on which the “birthers” hang their false hope.

President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was born in Kansas on November 29, 1942. She turned 14 years old on November 29, 1956, and she completed 5 years of U.S. residence after the age of 14 on November 29, 1961. She gave birth to President Obama on August 4, 1961, before she met the 5-year mark for residence after age 14.

That’s why the “birthers” think they can deny the President’s citizenship despite his American mother, if only they can show that he was somehow born outside the U.S. Too bad for them that the evidence of President Obama’s birth in Hawaii is pretty irrefutable.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.