Myth: Immigrants’ Anchor Babies Keep Undocumented Families in the States

Publisher’s Corner  
Marcelino Jose

The current rant about anchor babies from the GOP primary campaign is loud, contentious and totally factless, but probably believed by a great many Americans -- believed because it is being constantly repeated without sufficient effort by the media to set the record straight. To address the issue of anchor babies, many GOP candidates are calling for a repeal of the 14th Amendment, and with it, an end to birthright citizenship. As the idea gains momentum on the campaign trail, it appears destined to become a lynchpin of the Republican Party’s immigration platform.

What fails to get mentioned in all the acrimony is that, even though the 14th Amendment does ensure that children born on U.S. soil are automatically American citizens, it says nothing about their parents. Immigration judges don’t allow immigrant parents to stay in the United States just because their children are U.S. citizens.

 Between 1998 and 2007, the federal government deported about 108,000 foreign-born parents with U.S.-born children. In a more recent two-year period from 2010-2012, foreign-born parents of U.S.- born children accounted for one-quarter (204,810 Undocumented) of all Homeland Security deportations.

Until they’re 21, these citizen children can’t petition the government to allow their parents to join them. Though DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) may address some of these issues with deferred-action status for qualifying parents, it is currently stalled in the courts.

From the nation’s inception, birthright citizenship was common law, but the divisive 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling denied this citizenship to all people of African ancestry, free and slave alike. It took a Civil War and 620,000 dead before the country ratified the 14th Amendment in 1868.

In a time of unrestricted immigration in 1898, Congress passed the deplorable Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited people of Chinese ancestry from being or remaining in the United States. The court had to address the issue of children born in the States to Chinese parents, who were themselves subject to expulsion. The court ruled that under the 14th Amendment, the children were U.S. citizens.

Now in 2015, the nation is dominated by the news that presidential candidates want to return to those dark days of denying citizenship to certain groups. Now it is the Undocumented, the majority of us Latino.

It is no surprise that birthright citizenship is becoming such a heated issue with the demographics of the country evolving toward a minority-majority country. In the 1800s, the worry was that African or Chinese Americans would become too powerful. Now the fear is that the Latino population is becoming too dominant.

The 14th Amendment has served the nation well for 147 years. It is simple and straight-forward, befitting a country built by immigrants who came for a fresh start -- escaping past persecution, poverty and violence, wanting to work for a better life for themselves and their children.

The U.S. is uniquely a nation of clean-slate beginnings. Our lineage is not how our contribution is measured. It is who we are. If we are born in America, this is our starting point. In no hospital in the country is someone standing over our birth deciding if we’re legitimate. We’re citizens by birth and the U.S. makes it hard to renounce this citizenship. In the States, we live in the now and think about the future. That’s how we’re wired.

The Pew Research Center estimated that four-million Undocumented parents, or 38% of adults in this population, lived with their U.S.-born children, either minors or adults, in 2012. Of these, three million have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more. There are 6.3 million children who live in a household with a DAPA-eligible parent and 5.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens.

They are not anchor babies, a pejorative term that came into prominence in 2006 when the immigration issue heated up. These are children born in the U.S., who are citizens in their own right.  America is their home, the only country they know. If we start questioning their citizenship, how far back in the nation’s history should we investigate lineage of children born here? Must one or both parents be citizens for a child to qualify? If we discard birthright citizenship in the future, with what child do we start denying citizenship? If we’re ready to shred the Constitution over this issue, what will be left of our democracy?   

Research Sources: New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office