Constitutional Amendment to Allow Foreign-Born Citizens to be President

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Constitutional Amendment to Allow Foreign-Born Citizens to be President


By: U.S. House of Representatives

Date: February 29, 2000

Source: U.S. Congress. House. Constitutional Amendment to Allow Foreign-Born Citizens to be President. HJR 88, 106th Congress, 2nd session. Available at: 〈〉 (accessed June 10, 2006).

About the Author: The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate comprise the U.S. Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. Members of the House may initiate the process of amending the U.S. Constitution.


The decision of the Founding Fathers to break away from Great Britain and transform their colonies into a sovereign nation was motivated by a longing for self-determination. That desire led them to risk their personal fortunes and futures in a war against their former countrymen and their former king. Given their colonial experiences as subjects of an overseas monarch, they were understandably concerned that their new government not invest excessive power in a single person or family. Hence, they created an elaborate system of checks and balances within their new governmental system. The nation's founders were equally determined that their new government, particularly the chief executive, remain free of foreign influence. For this reason, they included a provision stating that the office of president cannot be held by a foreign-born person. That requirement remains in force today.

The Constitution's framers believed that while U.S. law should be amended, so that it can adjust to meet the changing needs of the country, the principles expounded in the Constitution itself should provide a timeless and relatively unchanging foundation for the remainder of U.S. law. For this reason, amending the Constitution requires significant effort.

While U.S. law is normally enacted with a simple majority vote of both houses of Congress and the signature of the president, an amendment to the Constitution requires a much larger mandate, beginning with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress. This requirement alone has made Congress the burial ground of virtually all proposed amendments. For example, an amendment proposed in 2006 would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It received less than half the votes cast in the Senate, and, thus, went no further.

If an amendment does receive the required super-majorities in both houses of Congress, it proceeds to a state-by-state vote. Each state determines when and if to hold its vote and a minimum of thirty-eight states are required to approve the amendment. Of the amendments reaching this stage, another twenty percent fail to pass. The Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights for women, passed Congress in 1972, but was able to win approval in only thrity-five states, three short of the required minimum.

If a proposed amendment is able to gather enough state votes, it then becomes part of the U. S. Constitution. Of several thousand amendments proposed in Congress since the nation's founding, only thirty-three have been sent to the states; twenty-seven of those were ultimately added to the Constitution.

There is no limit to the number of times an amendment can be proposed in Congress, and some proposals are considered repeatedly. In 2000, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank proposed a Constitutional amendment which would allow foreign-born American citizens to serve as President of the United States.


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to make eligible for the Office of President a person who has been a United States citizen for twenty years.


FEBRUARY 29, 2000

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts introduced the following joint resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to make eligible for the Office of President a person who has been a United States citizen for twenty years.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification:


"A person who is a citizen of the United States, who has been for twenty years a citizen of the United States, and who is otherwise eligible to the Office of President, is not ineligible to that Office by reason of not being a native born citizen of the United States."


Although Congressman Frank's proposal made little progress in Congress, the idea of opening the presidency to all U.S. citizens appealed to Democrats and Republicans. Both major parties viewed the change as a potential winning issue with minority voters, particularly Hispanics. Republicans also had an interest in the future of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born U.S. citizen since 1983. In 2003 and 2004, multiple versions of such an amendment were once again proposed by both parties. Though the details varied, each set a specific length of citizenship, ranging from fourteen to thirty-five years, after which an immigrant would become eligible to hold the presidency.

Supporters of such an amendment argue that as a nation of immigrants, the United States is the last place that separate classes of citizenship should exist. They note the distinguished service of such citizens as Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright, both of whom were foreign-born. They also point out that the birth requirement originated in an era when the United States was a small weak country, a situation which no longer exists.

Critics of the proposed change note that the United States is already unusually accepting of immigrant citizens, placing few other restrictions on them. These opponents also assert that the U.S. Constitution was intended to remain relatively unchanged, and that political motives and short-term objectives should not be permitted to change the provisions of this seminal document.

While there appear to be few outspoken critics of the proposal, the process of passing an amendment remains daunting. Successful amendment drives have often required a specific trigger event to galvanize public opinion and help propel the lengthy ratification process. A few supporters of the current proposal have suggested marrying it with another potentially popular change, such as removing term limits to allow a president to serve three terms.



Amar, Akhil Reed. America's Constitution: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2005.

Cohen, Jeffrey, et al. The Presidency. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities, 2003.

DeGregorio, William. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. Sixth edition. New York: Random House, 2001.


Govindarajan, Shweta. "Flag Amendment Proposal Passes First Test." Congressional Quarterly Weekly 64 (2006): 54.

Lawler, Peter A. "Toward a Consistent Ethic of Judicial Restraint." Society 43 (2006): 51-58.

Lloyd, Robert. "Rebuilding the American State." Current History 105 (2006): 229-233.

Web sites

Bill of Rights Institute. "The Bill of Rights." 〈〉 (accessed June 12, 2006).

Cornell Law School. "United States Constitution." 〈〉 (accessed June 12, 2006).

Puzzanghera, Jim. "Amendment Would Drop Requirement for President to be U.S.-Born." Seattle Times, September 16, 2004. 〈〉 (accessed June 12, 2006).

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Constitutional Amendment to Allow Foreign-Born Citizens to be President

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Constitutional Amendment to Allow Foreign-Born Citizens to be President