Ted Cruz: Could a Canadian run for president?

Ted Cruz
Image caption Cruz - both Canadian and American, for now

It's the hope of many Republicans that Texas senator Ted Cruz will run for president in 2016. But he was born in Canada. Is that a problem, asks Tom Geoghegan?

According to the birth certificate he released to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz was born in Calgary to a father from Cuba and a mother from Delaware, US. He moved to the US aged four and has both US and Canadian citizenship.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the US Constitution says "no person except a natural born citizen" is eligible to be president. But what does this mean?

"The truth is that there's no authoritative legal understanding of what it means," says Rogers Smith, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. "But the dominant legal interpretation is that a person acquires citizenship by birth, either by being born on American soil or to an American parent."

This would effectively bar immigrants from the White House, even if they become US citizens, but not people like Cruz with at least one US citizen for a parent. Smith says the writers of the constitution were principally concerned about European aristocrats being able to claim eligibility to the highest office in the US. But he believes the clause should now be removed from the constitution because it is at odds with the American spirit. It's also a more restrictive policy than exists in many other countries, including the UK and France.

The natural-born requirement has been put to the test several times. Democrats were quick to point out that Mitt Romney's father, George, was born in Mexico when he ran for the Republican nomination in 1967 - although his eligibility had not been seriously questioned by the time he handed the crown to Richard Nixon the following year. When John McCain did win the nomination, the Senate passed a resolution stating that he was a natural-born citizen, having been born on a US military base in the Panama Canal Zone.

There was talk of amending the constitution when Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the peak of his popularity, but it didn't last long.

If Cruz does run and win his party's presidential nomination, he probably won't provide the country with its first Canadian candidate. He has announced he will give up his Canadian citizenship - for political rather than legal reasons.