Can a foreign-born adopted child of an American family become President of the United States?

The relevant text, from Article 2, Section 1 of the US constitution says:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

but it is unclear to me whether or not this applies to the foreign-born adopted child of American parents.


1 Answer 1


I would conjecture NO. The Supreme Court has yet to decide a case of contested citizenship for a Presidential candidate.

This leaves only supposition, but the following Congressional Research Service report suggests only that eligble candidates meet legal requirements of citizenship "at birth".
[NOTE: link is to a pdf derived via wikipedia article on the "Natural-born-citizen clause"].

The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term "natural born" citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship "by birth" or "at birth", either by being born "in" the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship "at birth". Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an "alien" required to go through the legal process of "naturalization" to become a U.S. citizen.

A relevant passage from the document (pg.28):

For we have no law, (as the French have,) to decitizenize a citizen who has become such either by the natural process of birth, or by the legal process of adoption.... The Constitution itself does not make the citizens; it is, in fact, made by them. It only intends and recognizes such of them as are natural—home-born; and provides for the naturalization of such of them as were alien—foreign born ....

[UPDATE] I add this scenario as a nightmare question for benefit of DJClayworth, who commented below. If a foreign surrogate were to deliver in an American medical facility abroad for American citizen parents, undoubtedly yes, but what if delivered elsewhere? The document referenced uses this "reasoning":

...could develop the requisite allegiances and reverences for the United States passed down, inculcated, and taught by one’s parent-citizens, and would have a lifetime of allegiance to the United States at least as strong, in a theoretical sense, as one of a “native born” citizen.

So, could we treat a child of a foreign surrogate, delivered with the express intention of adoption by American citizens, as native-born if not delivered in an American medical facility?

  • 8
    Being exceptionally nitpicky, a child born overseas to American parents and then adopted would count as a natural born citizen. Sep 10, 2013 at 17:00
  • @DJClayworth - I'm not sure that was the scenario asked - I read it as foreign-born, adopted by American parents.
    – wbogacz
    Sep 10, 2013 at 17:45
  • You're probably right. Sep 10, 2013 at 18:53
  • 3
    @user102008 - No. Read the article for why they are different.
    – wbogacz
    Sep 24, 2013 at 1:57
  • 3
    @LindaJeanne Because the adoption doesn't have anything to do with whether the child was a U.S. citizen at birth or not. The U.S. Constitution requires the President to be a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, not just a citizen. Someone who was not a U.S. citizen (or at least eligible for citizenship) at the time of their birth is not eligible to be President, regardless of how they later became a citizen. The only way an adopted child would be eligible would be if the child were already a citizen of the U.S. prior to the adoption. In other words, the adoption is moot.
    – reirab
    Jan 26, 2017 at 23:39

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