- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

Democracy is on the march across the globe in places few could have imagined just three years ago. With it come endless possibilities for the citizens of those countries.Yet even today, there are archaic restrictions within our own system that I believe deserve a second look.Forbidding naturalized citizens from running for president and limiting to two the number of terms a president can serve actually restrict the rights of all citizens, not just the few who would make themselves candidates for the highest office in the land.

Article II, Section One of our Constitution says that no person under the age of 35, no person who was not born in the United States and no person who has not resided in the United States for 14 years is eligible to be president. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution further prohibits an individual from serving in the presidency if that individual has served in the office for two terms previously.

In 1788, when the Constitution was ratified by nine states, it was a different world. The United States didn’t stretch west beyond Pennsylvania and it took six to eight weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The people of the United States in 1788 were isolationists and nationalists, and remained so for most of the next century. In that context, it is understandable why the Founding Fathers and their descendants would cling to the notion that our chief executive ought to be a native-born citizen — one of us and not one of them. They feared that allowing someone who wasn’t born here to become president could encourage the re-emergence of monarchists and ultimately threaten the delicate republic they had created.

Today, however, we are a country of immigrants from many different cultures, races and creeds. There are millions of naturalized citizens in the United States, born in other lands, who now work, worship and reside alongside those citizens born here. We extend to first-generation Americans the same responsibilities as second-, third- and fourth-generation Americans.

They have gone through a citizenship procedure under which they must understand as much as or more than the rest of us about our country and our system of government. Each must take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, which is not required of the general citizenry. And while these new citizens of our country may preserve their heritage, they call themselves Americans, and they are Americans, just like us. But today, that same naturalized citizen, after having lived here for 14 years, still cannot become president. A naturalized citizen can become secretary of state, chief justice of the Supreme Court or speaker of the House of Representatives, but not president.

This restriction, therefore, is not a prohibition against any one citizen, it is a prohibition against all citizens. It is not that that person cannot run for President, it is that none of us can vote for them if we choose.

The same principal must be applied to another provision in our Constitution, the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951. It prohibits an individual from being elected to more than two terms as president.Again, this is not so much a denial of an individual’s right to run, but of the entire citizenry’s right to elect the individual they want to help govern them.

The time for change has come. Amending the Constitution is not to be taken lightly, but I believe that the provision barring a naturalized citizen from serving as president should be repealed, along with the term limitations.Both provisions deny rights and privileges ingrained elsewhere in our Constitution.

This Congress will be debating many issues affecting the rights of citizens and non-citizens. We must not lose perspective as to what citizenship is and what it means. Making these changes is not a matter of the rights of immigrants, but the rights of citizens. The distinction must be made clear.

These changes are based on a simple truth:A nation that derives its power from the consent of the governed must ensure that those governed shall have the right to choose those who govern them, with the least restriction and the fewest limitations.

Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican, is chairman of the House Rules Committee.


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