LA Times: "The loaded term 'anchor baby' conceals complex issues"

by Joseph McKeown


Donald Trump began his presidential campaign calling Mexicans "rapists" and drug dealers and now he and other presidential contenders have moved onto decrying so-called "anchor babies"—a term that has been denounced by many as offensive—and have advocated for changing the fourteenth amendment to repeal "birthright citizenship."

The Reason for Undocumented Immigration

In his policy paper, Trump claims that birthright citizenship "remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration." While the paper does not provide further explanation, as the Los Angeles Times noted, the "impulses driving immigrants to have children in the United States vary widely, as do the economic circumstances of those who drop 'anchors.'"  

While there are some instances of “birth tourism”—when legal but usually temporary immigrants travel to the US to give birth in order to provide the child US citizenship—Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science at UC Irvine, said that “the notion that parents have children in the U.S. to protect themselves from deportation is a departure from reality,” and observed that US-citizen children must be twenty-one-years-old to begin the process of sponsoring a parent who is in the country without legal status. He said in the Los Angeles Times: "It would take an amazingly tactical or Machiavellian parent to somehow think that the child's status protects the parents...They are not thinking 25 years in the future."

Zenen Jaimes, a policy analyst with United We Dream, which advocates for the rights of young immigrants, was born in Chicago to undocumented Mexican parents who came to the US because of the economic crisis in Mexico. He said in the Los Angeles Times that his parents did not intend to have children to protect themselves from deportation. “Once they got here they just went through the normal process of starting a family," he said. While his mother obtained legal residency after his older brother sponsored her, his father was deported. "That's the case for thousands of kids who grew up like me[.]”

What Would Happen if US Changed Birthright Citizenship?

The results could be very problematic, argues the Huffington Post, since changing the fourteenth amendment would create second-class and a large number of stateless individuals with limited rights. Citing examples from Germany, where it has historically struggled to integrate their Turkish population due in part to their citizenship policies, the Dominican Republic, which retroactively stripped Haitian-Dominicans of citizenship despite international condemnation, and Japan, which had previously denied citizenship to Koreans living in Japan, changing the fourteenth amendment would have a vast impact on not only immigrants but US citizens as well. 

The US would need a whole new government bureaucracy, argues Margaret D. Stock, a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and attorney with the Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group:

America has no national birth registry, no squads of skilled government lawyers who can determine whether a person’s parents hold a particular immigration status at the moment of a baby’s birth. We’d need a whole new government bureaucracy to make birth adjudications. Americans would have to pay for this new bureaucracy, which would be tasked to decide the citizenship of some 4 million babies born in America each year.

David Baluarte, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and the director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, said in Mother Jones that ending birthright citizenship would be “a disaster.” Creating a class of stateless migrants, he says, “would be a humanitarian crisis within the United States."