We need to define citizenship

Back in the 1970s, Dr Pepper sought to lure us in by suggesting its consumers could be part of a soft drink clique. “I’m a Pepper; he’s a Pepper; she’s a Pepper — wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” the actor David Naughton sang in the jingle featured in TV commercials.

Substitute the word “birther” for Pepper and you would have a contemporary political clique.

The birther issue, which has dogged us since Barack Obama broke out eight years ago, has returned, this time to dog the Republicans. And it likely won’t go away soon.

Although born in Hawaii to an American, Obama’s birth claim was scrutinized for years because his father was Kenyan. Chief among those skeptics was Donald Trump, now the GOP’s front-running presidential candidate. Ironically, we might have Trump to thank for Obama himself finally putting the issue to rest (for the great majority of us). While the question had largely faded from public consciousness, Trump revived it during national TV appearances in March 2011. A few weeks later, and two days after Trump publicly called for Obama to do so, the president shared his birth certificate.

“Today I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,” Trump bragged to reporters.

Now, as he races ahead of the field for the 2016 Republican nomination, Trump has a new target: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who, despite Trump’s overwhelming lead in national polls, actually leads the billionaire developer in Iowa, the first state to vote.

Cruz was born in Canada under circumstances that mirrored Obama’s: his mother was an American (born in Delaware) and his father was Cuban. Trump, though not a candidate at the time, first challenged Cruz’s citizenship last March, just after the Texan declared for the presidential race.

Cruz, according to media reports, renounced his Canadian citizenship in June 2014.

Two weeks ago Carly Fiorina, another contender for the 2016 GOP nomination, told Fox News that she thought it was “odd” that Cruz didn’t reject Canadian citizenship until he began eyeing the White House. In mid-January a Houston lawyer filed a lawsuit challenging Cruz’s status and qualifications.

And it’s not just Republicans. Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Orlando, whose district includes Haines City, Davenport and other parts of eastern Polk County, has threatened a lawsuit challenging Cruz’s qualification to serve as president if he becomes the Republican nominee.

And on it goes.

During the recent Republican debate Cruz argued that Trump himself, because his mother was Scottish, would be disqualified under the citizenship test he seeks to impose on Cruz. Cruz also noted that Sen. Marco Rubio and former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who dropped out of the race, would also be out.

It’s easy to smirk and scoff at the desperate birther tactics political foes use to undermine each other. Yet legal scholars say the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to tackle this question, even as it comes up more and more.

We are an international nation, and the Center for Immigration Studies reported last year that immigrants are 13.3 percent of the nation’s total population. With that many foreign-born residents, we will assuredly see more candidates like Obama, Cruz and Rubio.

As frivolous as these lawsuits seem on the surface, perhaps we need the Supreme Court to determine who is a “natural-born” citizen so this birther circus won’t come to town every four years.

Reprinted from the Panama City News Herald

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