“Anchor babies” aren’t a thing: Immigrants don’t use children to gain citizenship

Donald Trump has sparked an earnest debate in the Republican primary over birthright citizenship, the guarantee of citizenship to those born in the United States as stipulated in the first line of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. But Trump has sparked an even more earnest debate over the use of the racist term, “anchor babies,” which calls to mind the specter of pregnant women crossing the border for the purpose of having a child with American citizenship, “anchoring” the family in the country despite having crossed the border illegally.

As strange as this idea is, a significant number of conservative politicians and commentators believe that undocumented immigrants are crossing our borders, before or while they’re pregnant, in order to cement their citizenship status in the United States. Even Republican candidates who don’t support ending birthright citizenship, like Marco Rubio, still say this is a major problem.

But here’s the thing: Using a child to fast-track your own citizenship is a tedious and time consuming plan, one that can take decades to carry out and produces almost no immediate outcome (nor guarantee) for the parents. From the Washington Post (emphasis added):

No Person is Illegal, via miguelb / Flickr

No Person is Illegal, via miguelb / Flickr

For illegal immigrant parents, being the parent of a U.S. citizen child almost never forms the core of a successful defense in an immigration court. In short, if the undocumented parent of a U.S.-born child is caught in the United States, he or she legally faces the very same risk of deportation as any other immigrant.

The only thing that a so-called anchor baby can do to assist either of their undocumented parents involves such a long game that it’s not a practical immigration strategy, said Greg Chen, an immigration law expert and director of The American Immigration Lawyers Association, a trade group that also advocates for immigrant-friendly reforms. That long game is this: If and when a U.S. citizen reaches the age of 21, he or she can then apply for a parent to obtain a visa and green card and eventually enter the United States legally.

So while it’s true that around 300,000 children are born in the U.S. each year to at least one parent that is an undocumented immigrant, that has almost nothing to do with strategic manipulation of the Constitution. It has everything to do with the fact that people have kids. These children are, by and large, conceived after their parents enter the country, not the other way around.

And those children aren’t shields for their parents. In 2013, the United States deported over 72,000 people who said they had American-born children. While President Obama’s recent executive actions have eased deportations of parents whose children were born in the country, the move only allows deferred action under very limited circumstances — it isn’t nearly enough of a change in policy to spur a wave of pregnant women streaming over the border “in droves,” as nativist alarmists claim.

The threat of deportation renders this type of “strategy” useless. Children of immigrants will retain citizenship rights, but his or her family will be deported if found here illegally, and won’t be permitted to return for decades. And any family caught trying to do this now won’t be granted any leniency under the rules created by the Obama administration. The entire issue is a red herring, meant to turn Republicans’ fear of immigrants up to eleven.


Chris Walker has been a political writer for more than ten years, contributing freelance opinion pieces to several online publications as well as managing his own blog, Political Heat, for more than six years. With a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism, Chris tries to bring a unique angle to every article he produces, including Millennial perspectives on the issues he's covering. Chris resides in Madison, Wisconsin, and proudly owns both a cheesehead and stock in the Green Bay Packers.

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17 Responses to ““Anchor babies” aren’t a thing: Immigrants don’t use children to gain citizenship”

  1. josiedjetton says:

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  2. DoverBill says:

    I thought machines picked corn.

  3. Bill_Perdue says:

    Reading is fundamental.

    “Twenty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1994, a trade deal championed by Democratic President Bill Clinton went into effect. The North American Free Trade Agreement was meant to integrate the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico by breaking down trade barriers among them, creating jobs and closing the wage gap between the U.S. and Mexico.

    What in fact happened under NAFTA was that heavily subsidized U.S. corn flooded the Mexican market, putting millions of farmers out of work. Multinational corporations opened up factories creating low-wage jobs at the expense of organized labor and the environment. This, in turn, drove waves of migration north.http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/after_20_years_nafta_leaves_mexicos_economy_in_ruins_20140109

  4. DoverBill says:

    “The vast numbers of people migrating north is a direct result of Democrat Bill Clintons NAFTA, a treaty he promoted and singed.”

    Why would they be headed here when NAFTA created most of the jobs in Mexico?

  5. truthlover says:

    It’s disingenuous for the Democrats to talk as if “anchor baby” has no meaning whatsoever. It may be a slur, but the fact is that their policies use the child as the tie for the parents to the U.S. One can easily argue that there are immigrants who can’t have children, etc., who don’t get the same treatment, only because they don’t have these children. Otherwise they’re just as “American” as the ones who do qualify for DAPA.

    The Democrats often bring up the fact that they don’t want to “break up families” by deporting the parents. Birthright citizenship should be debated. It causes issues that have to be dealt with, like millions of people who need something like DAPA or to leave the USA for 10 years to have legal status.

    We should ask Hillary Clinton: if “baby” or “U.S. citizen” describes these children completely, why do we need DAPA for their parents? Obviously something more descriptive must be used.

  6. Chris Walker says:

    But even if they get DAPA, it’s only a temporary deferment — not a permanent legal status. I agree that something better should be considered, but I think my point stands that it’s an awful “strategy” for immigrants to use, especially undocumented immigrants just entering the country in the past five years or less.

  7. truthlover says:

    The Migration Policy Institute estimates DAPA applies to as many as 3.7 million parents. This hardly qualifies as “very limited circumstances.”

  8. Chris Walker says:

    The conditions for applying for a DAPA deferment require applicants to have lived in the U.S. for more than five years. That means any immigrant trying to give birth today (and any parent to a U.S. born child since 2010) to cement their own status as a citizen would be denied.

  9. truthlover says:

    President Obama’s DAPA was created specifically to help these children’s parents gain legal status. That would end the threat of deportation to them. Hillary Clinton has said she would expand this program. The Democrats, then, plan to use the citizenship of these children as an “anchor” for them to have legal status.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    Meanwhile the carnage caused by Obama’s racist deportation policies continues unabated.

    People used to cross in more populated urban areas like San Diego, El Paso and Nogales. But operations Gatekeeper, Hold the Line and Safeguard – characterized by blockading the US-Mexico border at those locations with things like fences, motion sensors and more Border Patrol agents – are funneling migrants out to the desert. Before, deaths were infrequent and often involved things like accidents or crime. Now, people die from exposure.

    “It’s a humanitarian crisis, and it’s been a humanitarian crisis since 1994,” said Enrique Morones, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Border Angels, referring to the year the border fences started going up. “Before that wall was being built, one or two people would die every month. After the wall was built, you started having one or two per day.” According to US Border Patrol statistics, 477 people died crossing in 2012, and 445 died crossing in 2013. The numbers have steadily shot up since 1998, when 263 died, according to the agency’s statistics. A total of almost 7,000 people have died between 1998 and 2013. But the true number is likely higher, considering many are never found.http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25116-borderland-deaths-of-migrants-quietly-reach-crisis-numbers

    The vast numbers of people migrating north is a direct result of Democrat Bill Clintons NAFTA, a treaty he promoted and singed.

  11. BeccaM says:

    My secondary observation is that the slightly less crazy GOPer candidates and their professional pollsters are probably pulling their hair out in clumps because they know they’ll get creamed in the general election if they completely alienate the entire Hispanic and Latino population in America, the overwhelming majority of whom are (1) here legally, (2) American citizens, and (3) eligible to vote.

    So ham-hands like Jeb the Bushette are desperately trying to make the xenophobic demagoguery sound like it’s about anybody else. Damned if I know why he decided that resurrecting the “Yellow Menace” was a good idea.

    There was once a part of the Republican party that remembered, “Yeah, we hold to these far, far right positions…but we gotta talk nice about them and use dog-whistles and such, so that folks who aren’t in our base won’t think we’re being offensive.” They’ve since become like my father who, deep in his racism and bigotry, insisted he wasn’t racist or bigoted at all but just ‘telling it like it is’ — only with generous portions of the N-word. He even sometimes suggested the targets of his racist bigotry wouldn’t mind what he said because it was all true (in his bigoted opinion).

    Well, the Grand Old Party, the Republicans, have become this. They’re no longer the party of Lee Atwater, who famously said “You can’t say n—, n—, n—.” They’re now the party that tolerates shouts of ‘White Power!’ at their own frontrunner’s campaign rallies and which excuses racially-motivated violence as merely ‘passion’ for America.

  12. BeccaM says:

    Yep. And a lot of the others are children or grandchildren of such.

  13. Hue-Man says:

    I would add one observation: If you look at American-born children of rich Chinese parents, they are exactly the kind of immigrant that “sane” countries would want to attract – wealthy parents, excellent education, superior STEM training, highly marketable, likely to have English proficiency. Truly, a First World problem – “we want to turn away elite highly-skilled young people from the second largest economy in the world”.

  14. Shorter Trump/GOP base:
    “There’s nothing wrong in America that can’t be fixed
    by what’s White in America!”

  15. Indigo says:

    That’s three of ’em.

  16. Naja pallida says:

    Since when has something not existing ever been a barrier to Republicans using it as a tool to drum up more fear in their blindly ignorant supporters? They haven’t been capable of debating any real issue in good faith for the last five federal elections. Setting their hair on fire over nothing gets a stronger reaction from the base.

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