U.S. lawmakers are considering amending the Constitution to allow foreign-born American citizens to run for president of the United States.
Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, believes that the constitutional requirement that U.S. presidents be born in this country is both outdated and discriminatory.
He says America's founding fathers drafted such a requirement more than two centuries ago out of concern that a European monarch might be imported to rule the United States.
At a committee hearing, he discussed legislation that he has introduced to change the Constitution to allow foreign-born Americans to run for the highest political office.
"The natural born citizen's requirement is something of an artifact from another time," Senator Hatch said. "It is time for us, the elected representatives of this nation, of immigrants by the way, to begin the process that can result in removing this artificial, outdated, unnecessary, and unfair barrier."
Under Senator Hatch's proposal, anyone who has been a U.S. citizen for at least 20 years and a resident for at least 14 years could be a candidate for president.
Similar legislation in the House of Representatives would allow someone who has been a citizen for 35 years to run for the White House.
A number of prominent Americans are barred from running for president, including California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, because they were not born in this country.
Senator Hatch noted that the U.S.-born requirement does not apply to other U.S. government officials, including those in Congress, the Supreme Court and the president's cabinet.
Still, some lawmakers are reluctant to tamper with the Constitution.
"In the event of the presidency, that reserved right in the Constitution of birth, I do not think we can easily dispense with because it is so dispositively written in the Constitution," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
Most lawmakers believe Congress is not ready to act on a constitutional amendment to change the birth requirements for presidential candidates anytime soon.
Any amendment to the Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, and then at least three-quarters of the state legislatures must ratify it.