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The 4th major political event in the GOP candidate selection process is the Florida Primary. All coverage has been collected in this special section. KUNC.org will have coverage of the primary on January 31st.

Why Could Romney's Father Run For President If He Was Born In Mexico?

George Romney, center, with his wife, Lenore, and teenage son Mitt, in 1962.
George Romney, center, with his wife, Lenore, and teenage son Mitt, in 1962.

One of the more dramatic moments in Thursday night's Republican presidential debate was when Mitt Romney said it was "repulsive" of Newt Gingrich to suggest that Romney was the most "anti-immigrant" candidate among the GOP contenders.

"Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive," Romney said, before demanding that Gingrich apologize (Gingrich did not do that).

Romney's mention of his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, reminded us that the elder Romney ran for president himself in 1968. And given all the attention that was paid in 2008 to Sen. John McCain's birth in Panama (where his Navy officer father was stationed) and to the never-ending "birther" conspiracy theories about President Obama, it seemed worthwhile to look back again at the issue of why George Romney could run for president if he wasn't born in the U.S.

As with McCain's situation, the key fact was that George Romney's parents were U.S. citizens. And, as Mitt Romney explained in a 2006 appearance on C-SPAN, his father "required no naturalization to become a citizen because his parents were citizens. He in fact was a natural-born American citizen."

That view dovetails with a 2011 Congressional Research Service paper about Article II, Section I of the Constitution, and the requirement that:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."

According to the CRS paper:

"The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term 'natural born' citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship 'by birth' or 'at birth,' either by being born 'in' the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship 'at birth.' Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an 'alien' required to go through the legal process of 'naturalization' to become a U.S. citizen."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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