Natural-Born or Naturalized?: America's Citizenship Problem

The 2016 election season has beautifully illustrated the culture of counterculture that has been brewing in America for quite some time now. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has galvanized the fear and insecurity running rampant on America’s fringes to an unprecedented degree. Similarly on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has energized a traditionally sluggish youth voter with cries for a political revolution. Given the massive magnitude to which electoral history is being crossed out, edited, and rewritten in this election, it becomes somewhat comical that conversations on other pertinent political issues - such as natural-born citizenship - have been glossed over and stalled.

Scroll through the constitution of most nation states and you’re bound to find a clause requiring the nation’s highest officer to be a natural-born citizen. From Colombia to Indonesia to The United States, it becomes evident that constitutional verbiage explicitly demanding a natural-born citizen transcends cultural, economic, or geographic influences. And for good reason, originally there existed great benefit-added from the inclusion of that specific caveat of presidential office.

Historical Necessity in a Contemporary Society?

Historically, the provision was used to protect a nation against the possibility of “outside” influence in politics. Imagine a freshly formed United States of America attempting to dissuade British infiltrators and influence in its political system. When forming such a fragile coalition of people, it becomes necessary to forge high barriers to in-group membership in order to ensure structural integrity and prevent cracks from starting and spreading. In essence, sovereign states adopted these requirements as a means of preserving the very fabric of their sovereignty.

But continuous spreading of cracks can be as much an indicator of a failed structure as a call for more cement. The world that existed when politicians around the world convened to draft the original constitution of their respective countries shows little semblance to our modern structure. Separatist mantra and homogeneous tendencies were legitimate options during the 16th, 18th, and even 20th centuries, but don’t have a seat at the table in the 21st century. In our exceedingly flat and increasingly interconnected world, ideas, products, and most importantly people, are being exchanged faster than stocks.

Particularly within The United States, a nation largely founded under the guise of equal opportunity - of course unless you are Black, a women, or non-heterosexual -, the concept that a qualified applicant born outside the United States suddenly becomes unqualified undermines the political system and America’s core values. Obama faced allegations against his citizenship status in 2008 and Cruz is facing similar accusations in 2016 - two elections, same story, no progress.

Truly the world is now flat enough to see over the geopolitical borders we have erected
— Lofy Khalafalla


The notion that a nation’s highest leader must be a natural-born citizen is archaic rhetoric that will not stand the test of time. Now more than ever, individuals born in one country are being educated in another and finding employment in a third. In our education system, colleges and universities are grooming the global citizens of not tomorrow, but today. Students of the future are embarking on international treks to devise global-community projects and partnerships, creating spatially distant neighbors. The very being of our interconnected global society resides within the new human experience and ability to simultaneously be in multiple places across the globe through the power of the internet.

A Second Class Citizenship

America, the land of opportunity, has inadvertently designed a 2nd class citizen program by distinguishing between naturalized and natural-born. As a child, the sole prospect of being granted citizenship was life changing and eye-opening. Life changing for the opportunities that it would present, but eye-opening to the underlying message it exposed - I was not equal. As much opportunity as America provided, I was still a foreign-born American and a loser in this ovarian lottery.

It’s time the nonconformist waves crashing across America’s political sphere make their way to the issue of natural-born citizenship. Truly the world is now flat enough to see over the geopolitical borders we have erected.