Alena Mulhern's uncle, a Massachusetts state representative, wants to help the 11-year-old's dream of being president become a reality

By Diane Herbst
June 07, 2016 01:55 PM
Justin Baldoni/Instagram

Alena Mulhern, 11, dreams of running for president in 2040, the first year she could legally vie for the role of Commander in Chief. But she can’t.

The Constitution prevents foreign adoptees from reaching the Oval Office, so the fifth grader from Kingston, Massachusetts, and her lawmaker uncle are working to change that.

Born in China and adopted at 10 months old, Alena is a U.S. citizen but not a natural born citizen, which the constitution requires for those seeking the presidency.

“I feel unhappy about it because it prevents kids from achieving their dreams,” she tells PEOPLE. “And it’s not fair for any adopted kid.”

At a family birthday party, Alena shared her dream with her uncle Josh Cutler, a Massachusetts state representative. He came up with the idea of filing a resolution asking Congress to enact legislation that would broaden the definition of natural born citizens to include kids adopted from other countries who have met certain requirements.

“Why shouldn’t she have this dream?” he tells PEOPLE. “I am optimistic about it.”

Cutler doesn’t believe a change in the Constitution is in order, but a change to a law called the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. It currently gives certain foreign-born adoptees every right except for the right to hold the office of the president.

“Alena plays on a softball team as shortstop and she is as American as the kid who plays next to her on second base and third base,” says mom Barbara Caparell, an attorney. “Why should the kid on second base and third base have the right to run for the presidency and she doesn’t?”

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Alena was 8 when she first told her mom that she wanted to run for President, after a family trip to Washington, D.C.

“I said, ‘Honey, you can’t be,’ and she asked me why and I said, ‘There’s a law that says you have to be born in this country, even though you are an American citizen,’ ” Caparell recalls.

“She said ‘That’s not fair,” and I said, ‘That’s right. What are you going to do about it?’ ”

Alena told her mom she would change the law.

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The then-second grader started with a petition signed by 120 children and parents, and sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. (To her delight, Elena received a form letter reply from each Obama.)

Once she partnered with uncle Josh, Alena found herself testifying before a Massachusetts state Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs last October.

Cutler’s resolution, called “Resolutions Equality for America’s adopted children,” received in May a “two thumbs up,” he says, from the committee, and is now winding its way through the state legislature. If approved, Cutler hopes it will grab the attention of federal lawmakers, who have the power to make a change in the law.

And it’s a law that affects hundreds of thousands of potential presidential candidates, a number our Founding Fathers could not have predicted when they wrote the Constitution. Between 1999 and 2015, alone, there have been 261,728 adoptions of foreign-born children in the United States, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Alena and her uncle are encouraged by the enormous positive feedback they’ve gotten so far, from kids and parents, and Massachusetts legislators. Alena is optimistic that the issue will do the same for federal lawmakers.

“It’s hard,” she says, “but we can do it.”

Until then, Alena is active in politics as a student council rep at Kingston Intermediate School.

When asked who she favors for president this year, she says: “I don’t know enough about the world to choose yet, I don’t know all the complexities of the world but I am sure America will make the right decision.”

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