“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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