Simon Says

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Immigrants Could Make Better Presidents

The success stories of immigrants to the United States are often impressive, with those who arrived hear with nothing pushing themselves to achieve something. It is enough to beg the question, why shouldn't foreign-born people be allowed to run for president?


Marine Lance Corporal Chuck Choi(ph) of Yakama, Washington, became a U.S. citizen just a few months ago while on duty on Iraq. He served in Afghanistan last year. He came to the U.S. from Korea when he was two and says I'm pleased to serve a country where everyone has equal rights.

Vilma Palma(ph) of Orange County, California, came into the U.S. from El Salvador in a pickup truck when she was nine. She massaged her mother's feet and hands at night, which were scarred from working in strawberry and rose fields all over California. She would tell me to do well in school, Vilma Palma remembers, so I didn't have to work like her. She spoke only Spanish when she arrived but became her grade school student of the year. She majored in criminology in college and has just won a prestigious scholarship to UCLA Law School. Vilma Palma says so many people helped me. It's time to give back.

Tren Do(ph) is born in Saigon. His mother flung him onto a fishing boat fleeing Vietnam in 1978 after his father were sent to reeducation camp. Both of his parents were later killed while trying to escape their country.

Tren Do grew up with distant cousins in San Diego. He spoke no English but by his 20s, he was teaching English in refugee camps in Hong Kong and Malaysia. He went to Stanford Business School. He now manages an Internet firm in the Silicon Valley and has helped build schools and bridges all over Vietnam.

Under the law, none of these Americans can ever be president of the United States. No immigrant can. Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Madeleine Albright ran U.S. foreign policy but they cannot run for president. Neither can Salma Khalilzad, who's represented America around the world or governors Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jennifer Granholm.

The law traces back to a time when only two million people lived in the United States and the people who wrote the constitution worried that a foreign power might send two million and one immigrants to take over. Today, more than one in 10 Americans are immigrants, but they come from many different countries and they're students, CEOs, teachers, nurses, engineers, surgeons and soldiers. They are children adopted from Ethiopia, Korea, Russia, Guatemala and China.

Is the law that prohibits immigrants from running for president a violation of their rights or a dated restraint that hinders the entire country?

The 11.7 percent of the population who are immigrants include some of the brightest minds and most conscientious citizens in the United States. People like Chuck Choi, Vilma Palma, Tren Do and 33 million more. They know about the world. They've had tough, interesting, often extraordinary lives. Can we afford a clause that keeps some of our best people from serving at the highest level?

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small