George Santos’ Press Team Denies He Was Born In the United States, Then Denies Denial

As he runs for re-election, the scandal-plagued congressman's representatives seem confused.
New York Congressman-Elect George Santos speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 19, 2022. (Photo by David Becker for the Washington Post)

On Monday, George Santos, who represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District, issued a press release announcing he’ll be running for re-election next year. The release didn’t address claims that the Republican participated in a credit card skimming operation; what his lawyer was doing on and around January 6, 2021; his apparent lies about helping children living with a rare skin disease; allegations that he stole thousands of dollars from a disabled veteran’s dying dog; a job-seeker’s claim that Santos sexually harassed him in his congressional office; or any of the many other colorful scandals of which he’s at the center. 


It did, however, quote the congressman referring to himself as a “first-generation American”—meaning, according to common usage, the Census Bureau, and Harvard University’s immigration center, one who was born outside the United States.

Santos, a famously unreliable narrator of his own past, has said that he was born in Sunnyside, Queens to parents who emigrated from Brazil, and a 2013 Brazilian court document describes him as a U.S. national. This isn’t, though, the first time that an official communication from his campaign has contradicted his story; late last year, a statement attributed to his lawyer referred to Santos as an immigrant. And as Patch reported, according to one former coworker, Santos has said he was born in Brazil.

The significance of this is that the Constitution requires members of Congress to have been citizens for seven years. If Santos was born abroad, as his own campaign has now repeatedly said he was, that wouldn’t necessarily disqualify him from office, but it would raise questions about when he became a citizen, as well as why he had claimed to have been born in Queens. This isn’t an entirely academic matter; as VICE News has previously reported, no official body has looked into whether Santos is qualified for office, much less confirmed that he is, as no one is exactly in charge of doing so. (It’s also not exactly clear what would happen if he were found to be constitutionally ineligible, as no one in particular is in charge of enforcing the citizenship requirement.) 


Seeking clarity, and aware that an extensive review of Santos’ interminable public access show revealed his propensity for malapropisms, VICE News asked Santos’ campaign press team the following question: “In his statement announcing his re-election campaign, Representative Santos referred to himself as a ‘first-generation American.’ First-generation Americans are those who were born outside the United States and emigrated to the U.S. Is Representative Santos a first-generation American, and if not, why did he refer to himself as one?”

The response was straightforward and unambiguous: “Yes. He is a first generation American.”

In response to a follow-up question asking to whom specifically the claim that Santos was not born in the U.S. could be attributed (this question went unanswered), the press team complicated things.

“Let’s be clear,” the press team wrote. “There are two possible meanings of the adjective ‘first generation’ according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. First generation can refer to a person born in the U.S. to immigrant parents or a naturalized American citizen. Both types of people are considered to be U.S. citizens.

“Congressman Santos was born in New York to immigrant parents.”

Naysa Woomer, a spokesperson for Santos’ congressional office, declined to comment on the Santos campaign’s apparent confusion over where the congressman was born and on whether he’s eligible to serve in Congress, saying, “Congressional offices do not comment on campaign matters.” (Woomer also did not answer a question about anti-vaccine legislation Santos is reportedly introducing called the Minaj Act, perhaps considering this a campaign matter.)

More questions may be in the offing; according to experts VICE News has consulted, the main venue in which questions of constitutional eligibility in New York State are contested is the courts, where an objector can attempt to prevent a candidate from accessing the ballot by filing a challenge and presenting evidence—such as a campaign’s statements—that they don’t meet the eligibility criteria.