This Legend Looks To Have Some Reality

One of the “facts” being thrown around in the swirling debate about immigration is the phenomenon of “anchor babies.”  The legend is that an illegal immigrant will come to the U.S. and have a baby here.  Because that baby is born within the geographical limits of the United States, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the baby automatically a citizen.  The parent is then typically allowed to stay in the U.S. to raise the baby, because we are a compassionate people and will neither exile a U.S. citizen based on the accident of her parentage nor split up a parent from her child.  Thus, the illegal immigrant is tolerated and remains in the country despite having broken the law to come here.

As this concept flew around the political landscape the past couple of weeks at fever pitch, I wondered to myself, “Is this real?  Is there enough of this happening to worry about in reality?”  I looked and looked and couldn’t find statistics for it anywhere.  Tonight, though, it hit the front page of memeorandum and my question is answered:  yes, there is some meat on those bones.

According to a reputable polling agency, in 2008, roughly 8% of all babies born in the United States are born to parents who are in the country without legal authorization to be here.  Are these “anchor babies”?  The result of their birth may be that this is what they are.  I still question whether there is a massive intentionality behind the parents of these babies to have the children so as to secure their residence in the U.S.  It seems more likely to me that the parents came here, hooked up, and boom, there’s a baby which is perhaps not unwelcome but also was not exactly planned for, either.  As the Pew Forum report points out, immigrants have a higher birthrate than citizens; as it does not point out but which ought to be fairly obvious, most of them come from heavily religious (generally RCC-dominated) cultures where contraception and abortion are discouraged, and education not valued or available.  These things contribute to higher birth rates.  They also contribute to large families; how many of those 340,000 babies born each year were the first baby born to the undocumented immigrant parents?

It’s also worth nothing that in the same report, 16% of all babies born in the U.S. were born to legal immigrants.  That’s nearly one in four babies born in the U.S. being born to non-citizen parents.  This confirms something I have long said, which is that as a nation we are dependent on immigration for our long-term survival; if you eliminate one-quarter of the live births from our demographics, our population would suddenly be shrinking very rapidly.  So for that reason, even though this is far from a majority, it is a large enough number that I think it deserves recognition.

Legal immigrants strike me as being much more likely to have intentionally conceived and given birth here for the purpose of creating an “anchor baby,” because these tend to be better-educated people, and people who do not need to hide from the system because they are in compliance with it, and therefore have easier access to medical care, including contraception and abortion, as well as a higher likelihood to have a job and therefore the economic wherewithal to predictably provide for their children.  Legal immigrants also strike me as more likely to attempt naturalization than immigrants here illegally.  I’ve no proof of any of the suppositions I offer in this paragraph, by the way; these just seem like plausible conjectures to me.

I’m still not entirely buying into the “anchor babies” legend, because I’m not convinced that there is the systematic sort of intent that moatdigger politicians are insinuating is at play.  The parents come here for economic reasons, not for the purpose of having babies in our hospitals.  Nor do I think it is fair to attribute a deep understanding of our legal or Constitutional system to them — they came here looking for jobs, nothing more.  But what I do acknowledge is that there is indeed evidence that a significant number of babies being born in the U.S. every year to parents who, according to the black letter of the law, ought not to be here.

The question is, are we so offended and scared by this phenomenon that we are willing to amend our Constitution to prevent it from happening again?  I say, let’s have more citizen children of legal immigrants.  Keep America as the Cadillac destination point for ambitious, and in many cases talented, people from around the world.  Get their children integrated into our society, make Americans out of them, and we will be stronger and richer for it.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. ABC has a story on "baby tourism", women slipping over to deliberately time birth so that it happens in the US.I find this part interesting:The United States is one of the few remaining countries to grant citizenship to all children born on its soil. The United Kingdom, Ireland, India and Australia, among others, have since revised their birthright laws, no longer allowing every child born on their soil to get citizenship. So the "international consensus" – you know, the thing libs love to applaud when the Supreme Court talks about it – is that birthright citizenship is a bad idea that doesn't work. Why shouldn't we abolish it too, then, when such "enlightened" nations (again according to libs at least) have done so?CNN also interviewed one illegal alien who pulled this stunt quite deliberately. One of the rare moments of CNN being honest, though Tuchman still tried to spin it into yet another CNN sob story about "oh those poor illegals."

  2. I have two questions that I don't have answers for and which I think might inform this discussion if the answers were available. The first is, from what nations do those who have babies in the United States come from? The second is, what percentage of them voluntarily (that is, without a fight and without a forcible removal by BICS) take their babies home with them?I've seen two or three articles now on "birth tourism", which is apparently relatively common for south and southeast Asians. The purpose of "birth tourism" (which is technically not illegal as the mother is in the US legally on a tourism visa) is not to obtain backdoor residency in the US for the parent, but instead to procure the benefit of US citizenship for the child, so that when s/he is older s/he can go to the United States to school or work without having to deal with the H1B visa process or the green card lottery. Do such babies count as "anchor babies"? And is this really such a bad thing?

  3. Whether we should restrict or liberalize our immigration policies is something that we should decide to do based on a sober assessment of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of pursuing either strategy. Which is why Kelly's final question is so very interesting.

  4. Citizenship is a commodity. While something "given" to children mostly by the state in which their parents are citizens, it is also something which can be taken away, or "purchased" through an application process.The sooner people get it through their heads that this is the case, the sooner we can have an honest discussion.Acquiring citizenship – whether for yourself or someone else, such as a child – through methods of fraud immediately taints it. As a "fruit of the poisoned tree", it is no longer legitimate.Put in perspective: you cannot steal a car, or "purchase" a car and then fraudulently default on the loan, and try to pass the car and its title on to your son/daughter and say "sorry it's my kid's car now, you can't punish them for what I did." Any judge would laugh at you and toss you in jail for attempting such a brazen stunt.Likewise the same ought to be true for citizenship. Birthright citizenship for those who break the law – whether simple illegal border-jumping, or through fraudulently misrepresenting intentions on a visa application, both of which are federal crimes – is a product of crime, and as such, should be rescinded as stolen property.

  5. Whether we should restrict or liberalize our LEGAL IMMIGRATION process is a matter for another time.To suggest that we should simply look the other way on matters of fraud and theft, is simply dishonest. And "birthright citizenship" that comes around as the product of fraud and theft, justified by intellectually dishonest blowhards with a feeble and completely worthless line about "not punishing the kid for the parent's crimes", is something that needs to be put a stop to.

  6. I disagree. Whether we should liberalize or restrict our legal immigration policy is a matter that must be discussed in tandem with discussions about what to do about illegal immigration, and the discussion about changing the Constitution is part of that discussion, too. It remains my position that liberalized legal immigration would be an intelligent, economically-advantageous, workable, and humane response to the overwhelming and uncontrollable economic incentives that motivate all immigration, whether legal or illegal.In other words, the comparative economic advantage of coming here is sufficient to attract, let's say, one million people a year. The real number may be different than that, but that's not important for my argument. Nothing Congress does, nothing our Constitution says or might say, nothing legal at all, is going to change the power of that economic incentive. So those million people are going to come here, whether legally or illegally, whether invited or uninvited, whether they are in our system or not. The massed resources of the Federal and State governments (whether they are acting Constitutionally or not) have proven breathtakingly impotent to stop any of it. Just as they have proven breathtakingly impotent to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country, which is another economically-driven phenomenon impervious to criminalization.Given that fact, I prefer to have as many of those million immigrants in the system rather than out of it, legally present and paying taxes for the work they do, and not participating in the underground economy and not participating in underground systems of "justice" administered by criminal organizations.

  7. See, here is where you are wrong.The "economic advantage" for most of them is suckling on the public teat – fraudulently gaining access (by either filing forged documents, deliberately lying on forms that count for perjury, or abusing ridiculous restrictions on anyone checking into their status). Much of it is done by claiming "oh but my kid is here and therefore a citizen and entitled to…" to which my response is, again: FRUIT OF THE POISONED TREE.I'm reminded of what was necessary for getting my friend's kid into grade school – a stack of papers at least 3 inches thick. She would have been possibly arrested or fined for not providing them, yet somehow the illegal alien scum simply drop their kids off, expect us to babysit all day while their kids ruin the education of the kids around them, and NOTHING is ever done about it. When pressed for an answer, she was told "well we're not allowed to report them or do anything about it" by the school administration – the same administration that threatened to call the sheriff if she didn't provide all these documents to prove her kid's immigration, citizenship, and residency status.Cut off the gravy train, and I bet the "economic advantage" of the thieves goes away pretty damn fast. If you think that we need more open legal immigration, by all means, be my guest to say so. But claiming that it would somehow be right to reward those who commit a fraud? I'm afraid I must call you a dirty word, Mr. Dishonest.

  8. I distinguish between those immigrants who come here looking for work from those who come here looking for a handout. Seems to me that there are lots more of the first category than of the second, but where might we look to find data to either confirm or refute that assumption?

  9. The parent is then typically allowed to stay in the U.S. to raise the babyICE couldn't care less whether an illegal alien has a citizen baby. "Has citizen offspring" is not a magical get-out-of-deportation-free card. Parents facing deportation can leave their minor children here (typically, with a relative who is a legal resident) or take the child with them. The child, being a citizen, can presumably return to the US someday. The parents can't."Anchor babies" is a misnomer because they do not "anchor" anyone. Abolishing birthright citizenship goes right back to the Old World notion that your ancestry is more important than anything else. It's not a baby's fault they were born here. They didn't crawl over the border. As for 'birth tourism', how common is this, really?

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