Land of the Free? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 6, 2010
While in the school library with a friend one day, doing my government homework, I quietly read the information on my worksheet aloud. When I came to the requirements to be President of the United States, I blinked and reread one item, thinking I'd made a mistake. I hadn't, though: the President of the United States has to be a natural-born citizen.

I realize this seems reasonable – if the U.S. were at war with the president's home country it would be difficult, to say the least, for the resident to make decisions based on what's best for America if it could seriously harm the other country. That is, it would be difficult if the president actually remembered this country. What happens if, as an infant, your family moved from Spain to America? What happens if you were adopted from Thailand or India as a baby?

One might argue that you would still have family in your home country even if you left as a baby. But let's say your grandparents live in another country, and your parents moved to America before you were born; you'd still have family in a foreign country, but you'd also have the opportunity to be president.

People argue that any foreign-born citizen would have special ties to their country. But personal heritage means a lot to most people, and many still practice the traditions of the country of their ancestors, regardless of their country of birth.

I'm half Native American, a member of the Nanticoke tribe, and proud of it – just as I'm proud to be an American. To my people, America's founders were English invaders who took my ancestors from their land, killed large numbers of them, and forced my Cherokee forebears to walk the Trail of Tears. Many people whose ancestors lived alongside mine now live on reservations, where long ago they were dumped in the middle of a wasteland by the British.

If you look at that situation and consider the heritage argument, it makes no sense for adopted Russian children to be banned from a chance at the presidency, but not the Native Americans. Yet I know that if a Native American ever were banned from becoming president solely because of his or her heritage, I could count on the nation to stand up and make such an uproar that the problem would be fixed. It's too bad the adopted Chinese baby, or the Cuban infant whose parents moved to the United States in hope of a better life can't expect the same.

America has many names: the free world, land of liberty, and the United States of America. What's “free” about not being allowed to run for president because you weren't born here? We honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts against discrimination, yet it seems as though we've forgotten what it means to make a place free of discrimination, to fight for equality for all people. America is the Land of Liberty? I propose a correction: America is the Land of Liberty to all born in our country. The United States? What's united about separating ourselves into native-born citizens and those born elsewhere?

We can start to address this right now – with the Pledge of Allegiance. Every American citizen knows it, but when was the last time you recited it and thought about the words, not about your next class or the homework you forgot to do? Is the pledge honest? What would it sound like if we changed the language to reflect this inequality?

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Disjointed States of America, and to the discriminatory republic for which it stands, a separated nation, under God, divided, with liberty and justice for some.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 10 comments. Post your own now!

introducingshelby said...
Sept. 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm
This was in my English quartely too!
a.coates said...
Jan. 14, 2012 at 2:21 am
But you yourself explained why presidents must be native-born, so it must be said that there are unfair victims of every sensible and fair rule. It's unreasonable to expect every clause of the constitution to satisfy every special case in a country of 300 million. The first amendment allows Westboro Baptists to picket the funerals of American soldiers - does that mean we should do away with free speech, or just not allow THOSE people to have it?
FallenAngel1 said...
Sept. 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm
Oh my goodness, i read this on the school quartely for english. This was my favorite, had one spelling error but that was it. What caught my attention was the fact that its true! Please keep up the good work. :-) :-) :-)
bombthrower said...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm
speaking as someone who was born hear but does not consider themselves and american citzen (my name is bombthrower and i like punk rock figure it out) i think its rediculous, but its not like voting mattters anyway,
crossmymind said...
Jul. 25, 2011 at 7:10 pm

That part of the requirements was actually to keep the Brits from reclaiming America.

I do agree with you somewhat. If someone came here when they were a toddler or kid, then it's acceptable. However, the question is can they be elected? It would be a bit unlikely for a former-Soviet to be elected, but otherwise there is no real concern.

LukeM said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

This law was written hundreds of years ago. It makes a sort of sense-children of another country might have their patriotism tested.

Regardless, if a congressperson tried to have the law amended, many of their potential voters and supporters would frown upon the politicans who supported the bill-paramount to political suicide. Since it is part of the constitution, 3/4 of congress would have to approve, as opposed to the average 2/3.

AnimalLvr This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I know what you mean about it being unlikely to be changed. I also get that those kids' patriotism could be tested. My point is just that it's kind of sad that they have to go through those tests and still not be allowed a chance at the presidency.

Thanks for the information on the ratification of the bill though; I thought it was interessting. Much more so than government class!

serena said...
May 3, 2010 at 7:11 pm
recently i heard of that law and i wondered about it. I can see why they would have passed that law, but it seems outdated for today. not likely to change, though, :(
earthy_kat said...
Feb. 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm
We are one nation under Canada and above Mexico. :D
Destinee This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm
I thought Canada was the 51st state. ;) ;)
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