(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – If Sen. Orrin Hatch passes his proposed constitutional amendment, a foreign immigrant who has already claimed United States citizenship could also win the title of president.
When the Utah Republican who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee presented the “Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment” in July 2003, he cited a litany of “patriotic Americans” who could never aspire to the presidency in spite of decades of public service because of the clause adopted in the original constitution that limits the presidency to “natural born citizens.”
But at a recent Senate hearing, questions of potential split loyalties and partisan motives continued to divide speakers and officials as to whether or not that clause should be removed.
Heritage Foundation speaker Matthew Spalding urged caution in adopting the proposal at this month’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“In the House of Representatives and the Senate, members check each other and diffuse the influence of any one individual. Not so in the case of the president,” he said in a written statement to the committee.
The director of American studies for the Washington think tank recommended that more stringent naturalization requirements be demanded of a presidential candidate.
“The time of immigration could possibly be limited to early childhood,” Spalding later said by phone. He also called for a ten-year waiting period to remove all “current candidates” from consideration.
Speaking for Sen. Hatch, press secretary Margarita Tapia denounced the claim that the senator intends the amendment to send Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Republican governor, on a fast track to the presidency.
“The senator introduced the bill before Schwarzenegger jumped into the race [in California],” Tapia said.
The controversy has made students take principled stands. Dana Chester, a junior majoring in political science at George Washington University, said the diverse background of a naturalized president would be an asset to his leadership.
“In America, we’re supposed to be a multicultural country. We’re supposed to be a refuge for all cultures to live in a peaceful society and democracy,” Chester said. “It would be amazing to see how a foreign-born president would use his upbringing to work with leaders from other nations.”
Tapia called the provision restricting the presidency to natural-born citizens “outdated.” She said the clause was introduced amid controversy at the Constitutional Convention to prevent a foreign highjacking of the electoral process similar to one that had recently taken place in Poland.
Spalding said loyalty is now a greater concern.
“I don’t think we have to worry about a foreign prince commandeering our highest office,” he said. “But when a modern president is making progressively more important decisions about war and peace, there can be no questions as to this person’s loyalties.”
Chester said a candidate’s loyalty is tested by the electoral process.
“Becoming a naturalized citizen is not as easy as it sounds,” she said. “If you can meet those requirements and then have drive enough to become president, your loyalty shouldn’t be questioned,” she said.
Sen. Hatch has also put the “Flag Desecration Amendment” and the “Federal Marriage Amendment” before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposals would respectively illegalize the burning of United States flags in protest and prevent states from recognizing marriages between gays and lesbians. Controversy over the proposed amendments makes their passage unlikely in the near future, according to testimony by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
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