Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Onion Takes on the Birther Movement

The latest entry from The Onion gives satirical treatment to the "Birther" movement -- a cross-section of fanatics obsessed with the widely discredited notion that President Obama is not a "natural born" citizen of the United States. Recently, a conniving blogger created an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate (using an Australian birth certificate as a template) that memorialized the birth of "Barack Obama." The individual sent the fake birth certificate to Birther leadership. News of the "smoking gun" put the movement in a state of rapture -- until the media exposed the fraud.

Read The Onion report: Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta.


Alessandro Machi said...

We are not all birthers.

BOT H Mom and dad need to be US citizens living in the United States. lol, it appears neither of Barack Obama's parents really passed that rather lax requirement.

So lumping everyone into a "birthing" category just makes the rest of us why the insincerity being mounted against what the issue really is.

Alessandro Machi said...

aka BOTH.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Alessandro: your statement of the "natural born citizen" requirement is incorrect. First, the passage in the Constitution that sets for the presidential requirements, does not even define "natural born citizen." Instead, we can only piece together information from other parts of the Constitution (and even early American statutes). Most likely it means being a citizen by birth - rather than naturalization. That's pretty much how scholars in the field view it.

A great place to look is the 14th Amendment, which provides that anyone born in the US is a US citizen! This does not mandate that the individual's parents also have US citizenship.

Earlier I wrote an essay that explains why banning healthcare for "illegal aliens" could also harm US citizens -- using the case of an undocumented pregnant women needing medical treatment to deliver her child. The child is a US citizen, regardless of the status of the parent. Being born in the US establishes birthright citizenship. That is indisputable.

If the birther movement believes that no one can be a natural born citizen unless both parents are citizens, then it is operating on a patently false assumption. If this is the assumption driving the movement, then I can understand the group's passion. But a passionate argument based on a false assumption does not make the argument legitimate.

jasperjava said...

Chester A. Arthur's father was not an American citizen when he was born, and yet Chester Arthur had no trouble with insane birthers when he was President.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I have read that the birthers believe that both parents have to be US citizens AND that they both have to reside in the US. No statutory or constitutional provision requires this for US citizenship. I am not sure where they got it, perhaps out of thin air.

Alessandro Machi said...

Chester A. Arthur's father became a US citizen, that is what shut up the accusations against Arthur.

The genesis of natural born citizen came up in a discussion when the constitution was being formulated. Here is a link to the specific article that explains the origination of natural born citizen.

I don't actually agree with some of the other articles I found on that site, but this one I thought laid out the premise well.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Alessandro: There is absolutely no requirement that both parents have to be US citizens. If this were the case, Obama would not be president. And I don't know the specifics of the Arthur case, but if his father became a citizen AFTER Arthur was born AND we apply the standard you articulated, then Arthur would not be a "natural born citizen."

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PS: I read the article you linked. Even assuming that it is factually correct with respect to the number of countries where Obama could have been a lawful citizen, this still does not change the fact that he is a natural born US citizen.

The Kim Jong Il "impregnating" a US citizen scare argument does not work for me at all. Why? We still have a political process! A mass murderer/rapist/child abuser/burglar born in the US to two US citizen parents could meet the basic qualifications for president too. But do you think the person would win? The fact that children of US "enemies" could meed the BASIC qualifications the Constitution establishes for presidents does not mean that they would win. Hundreds of millions of people meet the standards, but would never win.

Ergo, I think the article pulls on emotion, more than reality.

Nell said...

Call me a cynic, Darren, but the political process has been thoroughly corrupted. If the corporate oligarchs decided they wanted to install a mass murderer/rapist/child molester as President, it would be done with the complicity of a bought-and-paid-for corporate media.

There was controversy w/r/t Chester Arthur's eligibility at the time he assumed the presidency. It is useful to remember that Chester Arthur was never elected president in his own right. As vice-president, he became president on the death of James Garfield and was not re-elected.

Finally, Darren, I believe you are begging the question when you say had Obama not been a "natural born citizen," he would not be president. The fact is that the definition of "natural born citizen" has never been legislated or litigated. We simply don't know what the founders intended. I also think you (and others) can make a good case, based on the 14th amendment, that there are only two classes of citizens -- born and naturalized. Given that both major candidates for president had their eligibility questioned last year, it's the opinion of this simple small-town lawyer (channelling Sam Ervin here) that it's high time we settled the matter once and for all, either through legislation or a constitutional amendment.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I certainly believe that the presidential election is owned by corporations and other wealthy interests. I am just trying to see under what scenario could a mass murderer/child rapist, etc. as president facilitate the intersts of corporate America. I cannot imagine the scenario. Can you?

Second, the Constitution (12th amendment) also requires that the VP meet the same minimum requirements as president. This was ratified in 1804. So, the fact that Arthur was never elected as president is irrelevant in this setting. He could not have served as VP unless he was a "natural born citizen."

Finally, I said early on that the Constitutional provision setting forth the requisites for president do not define "natural born" citizen. There was an early 18th century statute that used this language (I believe), but it did not require the high standard I have heard some birthers articulate (2 US citizen parents). Also, none of the legislation -- and you know Congress has plenary power over Citizenship and naturalization, subject only to the Fourteenth Amendment -- on defined birthright citizenship as requiring 2 citizen parents. This is a well-settled question in immigration law.

I really do not see the need for a constitutional amendment. Legislation, perhaps, but I would not want legislation to respond to irrational conspiracy theories. Every birther theory I have heard is factually inaccurate or incomplete and legally unsound.

I have many problems with the 2008 election -- particularly the Democratic primaries. Obama's citizenship is not on the list. Neither was McCain's!

Nell said...

To the best of my knowledge, the only statute ever to use the term "natural born citizen" was the Naturalization Act of 1790, which stated that "children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens." That act was subsequently replaced by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1795 which contained similar language but dropped the words "natural born," simply declaring that those children born beyond sea to US citizens were also citizens.

I'm well aware of the 12th amendment requirements for eligibility to the vice presidency. My only point was to suggest (and it is an opinion only) that had Chester Arthur been running for president and not VP in 1880, his eligibility may have more of an issue than it was. It was known at the time that his father was a naturalized citizen, but there was some question as to when that naturalization took place. It's kind of interesting to me (in an academic sense) that some 12 years after the ratification of the 14th amendment, Chester Arthur's status as a natural born citizen was questioned at all.

I'm still of the mind that we need to decide as a nation whether the terms "natural born citizen" (the use of which is nowhere else in our constitutional or statutory language except in the context of eligibility for POTUS) and "citizen at birth" (as defined in Title 8 USC Section 1401) are synonymous. To be honest, I'm somewhat ambivalent about it. I find it hard to fathom that the founders intended that anyone born almost anywhere in the world to at least one US citizen, with very few exceptions, should be eligible to the office of President and Commander in Chief. But if this is what Americans want in the 21st century, so be it. I'd just like to see it settled.

To illustrate that this controversy is not new, here's an interesting five-year-old article from the NY Times:

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

If we have a constitutional amendment -- which is doubtful -- I say get rid of the requirement. What on Earth does "natural born citizen" mean in an age of invitro fertilization, sperm donors, surrogate mothers, and (maybe one day) cloning? The RESIDENCY requirement makes a lot more sense than a place of birth requirement.

If someone is naturalized at age 1 and remains in the USA until running for president at age 50, why should the fact that the person was born outside of the US matter? That person's 49 years of US residency (and citizenship) would exceed those logged by Obama, Bush and Kennedy and (probably) others (I'm just naming some off the top of my head). It's a stupid requirement when you think about the possible persons excluded.

Require citizenship, require a certain amount of years as a resident -- and even require a longer reisdence for naturalized citizens (perhaps), and then move on. I suspect that most Americans at this point in history would not elect a foreign born person, but they should at least have the option to do so, if the person would do the best job running the place.

Nell said...

Drop the "natural born" requirement and up the 14-year residency requirement? Sounds good to me, Darren. (That 14-year residency requirement is another undefined vagary of the constitution--must the 14 years be consecutive and/or immediately precede one's run for the presidency?) But such a change would require a constitutional amendment which, I agree, is doubtful (although desirable, IMO).

You can add Teddy Roosevelt to your list of presidents elected with fewer than 49 years of residency.

I realize, of course, that there are more pressing problems on the nation's plate right now, but as you rightly point out, given modern reproductive technologies, as well as the prevalence of foreign adoptions and the ease of international travel, this issue of who qualifies as a natural born citizen is not going away any time soon.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Well, we won't have a constitutional convention, because there are too many permutations to cover in one measure -- and it's too expensive. The SCT would probably NEVER get into this issue. And Congress would never invalidate an election over "grey" areas. So, that's probably why we have the system we have. I am open to the notion that there's some ambiguity, but that certainly does not explain the totality of this "Birther" movement. They are so hell-bent on challenging Obama's presidency that they will believe any new "lawyer" who comes around stating legal arguments favoring their position. Imagine if they put their energy to advocating positive social change rather than digging into a empty pit.

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