White House

Much has been said recently about the question of who is or is not a natural born citizen of the United States and therefore is or is not eligible to be president. The question is actually quite simple to answer, but it requires some background in relatively obscure statutes. If you haven’t had time to study the matter, here’s a quick guide.


What is a natural born citizen and what other kind is there?

There are two kinds of citizens of the United States:


  1. Natural Born, and 
  2. Naturalized

Natural Born citizens become citizens at the moment of birth and because of the nature of their birth (explained below).

Naturalized citizens become citizens at some time after their birth by fulfilling various legal requirements, living in the United States for five years, etc.


How does this relate to the Presidency?

Natural Born citizens are eligible to be elected President of the United States.

Naturalized citizens are not eligible to be elected President of the United States (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1).


How does one become a natural born citizen?

In order for you to be a citizen at birth, one of two things must be true:


You must be born on U.S. soil to parents who are there legally,


One of your parents must be able to give you citizenship.  

In order to give you citizenship at birth, one of your parents must be a United States citizen who has lived in the United States for at least ten years, including at least five years after reaching the age of 16. This is according to the Nationality Act of 1940 (click here and scroll down to it), which applied at the time the incumbent and all current candidates were born.  


How does this apply to Ted Cruz?

Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada–not on U.S. soil.

His father was not a U.S. citizen at the time.

But Cruz’s mother, Eleanor Darragh Cruz, was an American citizen, having been born in Delaware in 1934. She was 36 years old when Ted was born, and had lived 33 of those years in the United States, including 17 years after she turned 16. Therefore, her son, Ted, was automatically a U.S. citizen at birth and by virtue of his birth.

Thus Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen and is eligible to be elected President of the United States.


How does it apply to Barack Obama?

Obama’s father was not a U.S. citizen at any time.

His mother, Ann Dunham, was an American citizen by virtue of her birth in Kansas in 1942. She was 18 years, 8 months old at the time she gave birth to Barack Obama, so she had not lived in the United States for five years beyond the age of 16 and could not give him U.S. citizenship.

Obama’s U.S. citizenship is based on his having been born in Hawaii–that is, on U.S. soil. If he was not born on U.S. soil (as some maintain), then he would not be a U.S. citizen at all.


So it’s really not that complicated, is it?

No, it isn’t, but if you’d like to read a more detailed discussion of Cruz’s eligibility, click here.