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Cruz not eligible to serve as president

Perhaps Ted Cruz may someday be eligible to serve as president, but under current U.S. laws and the Constitution, he is not eligible to do so.

There is renewed debate regarding the eligibility of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father — to serve as president of the United States.

Cruz has cited the U.S. Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790, and the Naturalization Act of 1795 as the basis of his claim that he is eligible to run for and serve as president. However, his case is weak.

Perhaps he may someday be eligible to serve as president, but under current U.S. laws and the Constitution, he is not eligible to do so. At present, only natural-born citizens of the United States can serve as president.

The early leaders of the U.S. government who wrote these laws did not intend to provide citizenship to children through the bloodline of their mothers. Cruz's claim to citizenship through his mother is further weakened by the more recently adopted language of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which emphasizes place of birth, abandoning the idea of citizenship through bloodline.

At the time of his birth, Cruz's parents lived in Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen, but his father was a citizen of Cuba. Cruz is correct when he notes that the Naturalization Act of 1790 provides guidelines for granting citizenship to individuals who are immigrants from other countries and for children born to U.S. citizens who travel or live outside of the United States. The act granted citizenship to children of U.S. citizens born abroad — but it also specified that the right of citizenship could only be passed from fathers to their children. The act states that only those children "shall be considered as natural born citizens."

It's true that some scholars do believe that the act permits citizenship to be conferred through either the mother's or father's bloodline. But this is a stretch, because the language of the statute only refers to "fathers." Mothers were not mentioned, because, at the time this act was written, women did not have full citizenship themselves.

The only individuals who were accorded the full rights and privileges of citizenship were free white males. Women and children were considered the property of the husband. Children were given their legal status through their fathers and not their mothers.

Why would it be so different when it came to citizenship?

It seems more reasonable, therefore, to infer that the writers of this act never intended for citizenship to be determined by the mother's bloodline in cases where the father was not a U.S. citizen. Otherwise they would have used the word parents.

The 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, doesn't even mention conferring citizenship via a bloodline. It says that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." The amendment does not define "natural-born citizen," but if you review the arguments made at the time the amendment was written, it means "born within U.S. territory."

For example, in 1862, John Bingham, a member of Congress, said that those born within the republic, whether black or white, were citizens by birth. Likewise, Edward Bates, the attorney general in 1866 stated, "I conclude that the free man of color, mentioned in your letter, if born in the United States, is a citizen of the United States."

So what about Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the GOP nominee for president in 2008? He was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. Why was he eligible to serve as president if elected? The answer is that he was born on a military base. According to an act passed by Congress, U.S. military bases and embassies are recognized as U.S. territory. Therefore, anyone born on the grounds of either type of U.S. facility abroad is a natural-born citizen.

Cruz was born in Canada, but our neighboring country to the north is not a territory, military base, or embassy of the United States. Before he could become president, a new law would have to be enacted. Until that happens, Cruz may run for president. He just can't serve as president.

Therese A. Cingranelli teaches political science at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y.