MIAMI - Mitt Romney, who rarely discusses his ancestry, has repeated a striking comment in Florida in recent days to soften his rhetoric about immigration and woo the crucial Hispanic voting bloc.
“My dad was born in Mexico,’’ Romney says at many campaign stops, as he expresses empathy and solidarity with immigrant families. It follows sharp rhetoric in places such as Iowa, where he decried what he called efforts to provide “amnesty’’ to the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants.
Were he to tell the rest of the story, it doubtless would resonate with many here: George Romney was born in Mexico and was 5 years old when a revolution forced his family members in 1912 to flee their Mormon colony and seek refuge in the United States. The Mormon exiles lost their homes, farms, and most of their belongings, were welcomed by the United States, and benefited from a $100,000 refugee fund established by Congress.
But there are other elements to the Romney story that may explain why he doesn’t tell the full tale on the campaign trail. The reason that George was born in Mexico is that his grandfather - Mitt’s great-grandfather - had taken refuge there in order to escape US laws against polygamy. It was this family patriarch, Miles Park Romney, who established the colony and lived there with four wives.
At a time when Mormonism was under attack in the United States, resulting in state and federal legislation against polygamy, some Mormon groups – including Romney’s ancestors – fled to Mexico where they were able to continue the practice until the Mexican Revolution forced them to return to the United States.
As detailed in “The Real Mitt Romney” by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of The Boston Globe, the former Massachusetts governor’s early ancestors did practice polygamy in North America, but that did not include his grandfather’s family in the United States or Mexico.
Romney told Fox News:
"My dad's dad was not a polygamist. My dad grew up in a family with a mom and a dad and a few brothers and one sister. They lived in Mexico and lived a very nice life there from what I understand and then when [my father] was 5 or 6 years old there was a revolution in Mexico, They escaped…. My dad had a very tough upbringing."If George Romney was born in Mexico, how could he run for president?
It is clear that naturalized citizens cannot qualify for the office of president, but there is no clarification in the U.S. Constitution pertaining to people born to U.S. citizens in a foreign country, and there is no definition of a “natural-born citizen.”
Some experts have challenged the idea that foreign-born children of U.S. citizens are “natural-born” because citizenship is conferred upon them after birth. A Congressional Research Service report published in November comes closest to answering that question. “There have been legitimate legal issues raised concerning those born outside of the country to U.S. citizens,” the report states. “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.’”
Romney was born to American citizens living in a Mormon church colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. Even though he wasn’t born in a United States territory or state, George Romney was given citizenship at birth because he was born to American citizens, essentially granting him the status of a natural-born citizen. “When you’re born outside the United States to [U.S.] citizens, you have citizenship at birth,” explained Peter J. Spiro, a professor of law and an expert on the law of citizenship at Temple University. “You don’t have to do anything to claim your citizenship. You are a citizen from birth.”
Romney was the first presidential candidate born outside the United States, and his decision to run against Nixon in the Republican primary of 1968 raised many questions. “This is not the kind of issue that was decided by the courts,” Spiro said. “No court has said definitively, but I think there’s some consensus understanding that a person such as George Romney would be eligible to be president.”
The issue came to the limelight again in 2008 with both parties’ candidates. Sen. John McCain was born on a U.S. naval air station in the Panama Canal Zone when his father was posted there, leading some to question whether he would be eligible for the presidency. It turned out to be a non-issue because a law passed in 1937, and applied retroactively, gave citizenship to anyone born in Panama whose mother or father was a U.S. citizen. President Obama was dogged for much longer by the birther movement about where he was born. The president released his birth certificate as proof that he was born in Hawaii.
Citizenship for foreign-born children of U.S. nationals is not an issue that has gained widespread attention.
George Romney didn’t make it far enough into the campaign for it to pose a problem, but that’s likely to change, Spiro says. “Going forward, there are likely to be other cases of other individuals who are born out the United States with citizenship, who achieve political prominence and who are in the ballpark for presidency,” he said. “This issue is not going to go away.” Several members of Congress — mostly Republicans — have attempted to cement this practice into a bill. Former Sen. Don Nickles introduced the Natural Born Citizen Act in 2004 to define the term, natural-born citizen, to include people who derived citizenship at birth from a U.S. citizen parent and to children under 18 who were adopted by U.S. citizens. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, went a step further, introducing the Equal Right to Govern Amendment in July 2003 to allow immigrants who had been naturalized for at least 20 years to run for president. Appearing on The Chris Matthews Show, in a discussion on the upcoming Florida primary, Andrea Mitchell claimed that Mitt Romney‘s relatives entered the United States illegally.
“And looking ahead to the next primary in Florida, 30 percent of the Hispanic community is Cuban-American. That’s a smaller proportion, and so the Hispanic community there is different. And they are less prone to be susceptible to Mitt Romney’s really hard line on immigration, more prone to the Newt Gingrich approach to immigration,” Mitchell observed. “The other interesting little fact is about the Mexican Romneys, those looking back at all of those records say that Mitt Romney should look back at the records because the Romneys that came back from Mexico to the United States, they crossed the border illegally.”In 1912, the Mormons fled their colonies in Mexico to escape the violence of the Mexican revolution. Miles Park Romney begat Gaskell Romney, who begat George Romney. George — who was never a Mexican citizen — was 5 years old when the family left Mexico. He went on to be an auto executive, governor of Michigan, and a presidential candidate. George begat Mitt, who was born in Detroit. Most of the Mormons never went back to Mexico. But one of Miles Park’s sons, Miles Archibold, did return. And it is his progeny who remain here today, Mitt’s second cousins.
Burnett told Mediaite he did not come across any documents indicating the Gaskell Romney family came to the US illegally, noting they were part of an exodus of 1,200 Mormons from Mexico. Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, fled the United States and crossed into Mexico in 1885 to escape religious persecution. He helped build the Mormon enclave of Colonia Juarez in Chihuahua.
Miles Park Romney never became a Mexican citizen, and neither did his son, Gaskell, or grandson, George. They were all denied Mexican citizenship because statutes on the books in Mexico denied that right to American settlers and their offspring.