Hold the 'birther' controversy: Ted Cruz is a natural born American

A telltale sign that Sen. Ted Cruz is rising in the GOP presidential polls is that some of his opponents — one billionaire casino mogul in particular — are suggesting that the Canadian-born conservative can't legally hold the office because he was, ahem, born in Canada. This kind of attack has become a rite of passage for presidential aspirants in recent years; witness the “birther” controversy that dogged Barack Obama (born in Hawaii to an American mother and Kenyan father) long into his presidency, as well as the sniping from the fringes about Republican nominees John McCain (born in the Panama Canal zone to American parents) and Mitt Romney (who also encountered “birthers” who doubted that he was born in the U.S. to actual citizens, which he was).

Just as with Obama, McCain and Romney, the eligibility questions about Cruz are laughable. His father is a Cuban emigre who was working in Calgary at the time of Cruz's birth, but his mother is an American from Delaware. Under U.S. law, anyone born to a U.S. citizen is a citizen too, no matter how far outside the borders they draw their first breaths. Canada, meanwhile, grants citizenship to anyone born there, regardless of how well they handle a puck. As a result, Cruz had dual citizenship automatically from the day he was born in 1970 until he renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014.

The U.S. Constitution requires the president to be a “natural born Citizen,” which simply means that he or she was born a citizen, as Cruz was. He also meets the Constitution's two other requirements for the White House: He's more than 34 years old and has lived at least 14 years in the United States. So he's clearly eligible for the office. Whether he's qualified is an entirely different question, although the Republicans who declared Obama unprepared because he was a first-term senator when he sought to become Commander in Chief don't seem to be phased by that aspect of Cruz's resume.

Some have agitated for a more narrow interpretation of “natural born Citizen” in an effort to rule out more candidates. But voters need better choices, not fewer of them. As we've argued before, this is a nation that champions meritocracy. Its values and bountiful opportunities are a magnet for smart, capable people from around the world. We should amend the Constitution to open the Oval Office to naturalized citizens as well as those who have been citizens from birth. The real measure of candidates isn't where they were born or to whom, it's how well they can do the difficult job of leading the country.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 08, 2016, in the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Natural born leaders" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe