The Romney Eligibility Question

A December 18, 2011 article in the Free Republic, by Larry Walker, Jr., raises many interesting questions about Mitt Romney’s status as a “natural born” citizen, as required under Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution.

The principal questions raised by Walker are these:  First, at the time of Mitt Romney’s birth, was his father a United States Citizen?  Secondly, inasmuch as Romney’s father, George W. Romney, was born in Mexico, did his father become a naturalized citizen prior to Mitt’s birth?  And finally, as the son of a Mexican-born father, was Mitt Romney born with dual US-Mexican citizenship?

These are all interesting questions.  However, in order to address them with some degree of logic it might be useful to first establish a few facts of the Romney family history, working backwards from the present.

Mitt Romney was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 12, 1947.  His parents were George W. and Lenore LaFount Romney, who married in Salt Lake City on July 2, 1931.  At the time of his birth, Mitt’s father served as general manager of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, in Detroit.

Mitt’s mother, Lenore Romney, was born in Logan, Utah on November 9, 1908.  She was an American citizen at birth.  His father, George W. Romney, was born in a Mormon Colony, Colonia Dublán, in Galeana, State of Chihuahua, Mexico, on July 8, 1907.  His parents were Gaskell and Anna Amelia Pratt Romney, both ex-patriot American citizens who were born in Utah and who met and married in Mexico.  Family histories indicate that they did not renounce their U.S. citizenship upon arriving in Mexico.

What calls into question Mitt Romney’s status as a “natural born” citizen is his father’s Mexican birth.  After being born in Mexico to American parents in July 1907, George W. emigrated to the United States with his parents and siblings in 1912, at age 5.  Many who question Mitt Romney’s status as a “natural born” citizen assume that his father, George W. Romney, was a Mexican citizen when he arrived in the United States in July 1912.

If that were the case, all that would be necessary for Mitt Romney to be a “natural born” citizen would be for his father to have acquired U.S. citizenship at some point between July 1912, when he came to the United States, and March 12, 1947, when Mitt was born.  However, according to an October 15, 1967 New York Times interview with Romney, who was then seeking the 1968 Republican nomination for President of the United States, it appears that he did not at any time apply for naturalization.

According to the Times report, “Governor Romney said today that the question of his constitutional eligibility for office had been studied by lawyers and that he believed it posed no problem…  Governor Romney said that he did not have to file any papers to become an American citizen since both his parents had been born in the United States…”

In a follow-up story on November 5, 1967, the Times reported that, “He was born July 8, 1907, in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his American parents were living in an exile Mormon community.  As the son of an American father, he was entitled by statute to American citizenship at birth.  So there was no need for him to be naturalized when his parents brought him, as a small boy, to the United States.”

Since George W. Romney was born on foreign soil, this raises the question of citizenship “by descent” of children born to American citizens on foreign soil.  Legal scholars insist that the question of citizenship lies in two concepts of international law: a) birth in-country, or jure soli (by right of the soil), or b) from birth outside the country to parents who are citizens,  jure sanguinis (by right of blood).  The latter would apply to George W. Romney.

One recent news story (source unknown) summed up the issue of Mitt Romney’s eligibility: “When Mitt Romney was born in the USA in Detroit, Michigan in 1947, his parents were both clearly recognized as being Citizens of the United States per the U. S. Nationality Act of 1940. Thus, Mitt was born in the USA to parents (plural) who were both citizens of the country and Mitt is a ‘natural born Citizen’ of the United States… George Romney was a citizen of the United States per U.S. “jus sanguinis” laws going back to the founding of our nation and also per the U.S. Nationality Act of 1940.  He was born in Mexico of U.S. citizen parents (plural) and thus George Romney is a ‘citizen’ at birth under U.S. laws, including the U.S. Nationality Act of 1940.

“Detractors claim that George Romney’s parents legally renounced their U.S. citizenship while in Mexico and thus could not pass along their U.S. Citizenship by jus sanguinis to their son George Romney.  There is absolutely no evidence of that…  He was recognized by all U.S. laws as a U.S. citizen long before 1940, but the Nationality Act of 1940… clearly stated that people in George Romney’s status were citizens of the United States at birth.  That act was adopted 7 years prior to Mitt Romney being born in Detroit, Michigan…”

Regarding Mitt Romney’s status as a dual US-Mexican citizen, that question is of little or no importance.  If Mexican law in the early years of the 20th century conferred automatic Mexican citizenship on all those born on Mexican soil it is possible, even likely, that George W. Romney would have held dual US-Mexican citizenship throughout his life, making him ineligible to serve as President of the United States.  However, it is inconceivable that Mexican law could impose dual US-Mexican citizenship, by descent, on the American-born children of those who held dual US-Mexican citizenship by automatic operation of Mexican law.

Those who support the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney should rest easy.  It appears that all doubts relating to his status as a “natural born” U.S. citizen are without foundation.  In his father’s case, it appears that he may have qualified as a “natural born” citizen only so long as he did not receive automatic Mexican citizenship by virtue of his being born to American parents on Mexican soil.

If he did receive automatic Mexican citizenship, jure soli, because of his birth on Mexican soil, he would then have held dual US-Mexican citizenship and would have been ineligible to serve as President of the United States.  Conversely, if he received only American citizenship, jure sanguimis, because he was born to American parents on foreign soil, he would then have been eligible to serve as a “natural born” U.S. citizen.

These are the findings and conclusions of one not trained in the law.  As such, their value should be judged only according to the reader’s level of confidence in the source.  I am only trying to shed a bit of light on a sticky question that may be of critical importance to us all.

If one trained in the law wishes to differ with my conclusions I will be happy to amend accordingly.  In the meantime, caveat emptor!

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