Like every iteration of the i-word, the skillfully packaged and highly destructive “anchor baby” meme has helped anti-immigrant proponents dodge facts and promote harmful ideas under the guise that they are protecting the Constitution. While the fervor has recently picked up around denying birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants, the racially charged and baseless arguments have been around for a few years. Here, for instance, is a hateful rant preserved forever in the Congressional Record by Iowa Rep. Steve King from March 5th, 2007:
If this becomes amnesty for 12 million or 15 million or for 20 million or more, and they bring in their extended families at the tune of maybe as many as 273 for every anchor baby that comes into the United States, we won’t just have 12 or 15 or 20 or more million who have no respect and, in fact, contempt for the rule of law; we will have 100 or more million that will have contempt for the rule of law.
That then would utterly destroy the rule of law in America. We would go back to a Third World kind of country where the rule of law doesn’t work down South in places like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia. It is the rule of who has the power and who has the guns.
Talking explicitly about race and challenging racist motivations from the beginning is necessary to save us time constantly busting the same baseless myth. As Victor Goode pointed out last August in his excellent Colorlines primer, The Roots of the GOP’s Birth Citizenship Mania:
the tension between America’s democratic ideals and its long history of racism on the question of citizenship lurks behind any discussion of the 14th Amendment … While those sorts of overt, pernicious references to race have disappeared in more recent immigration lawmaking, it is clear that much of today’s anger over birthright citizenship is directed at the rapidly growing Latino population.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham offered an example of that racism in July 2010, when he asserted, “It’s called ‘drop and leave.’ To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen.” A report released this month by the Pew Hispanic Center debunks this groundless assertion.
Here’s the reality: According to the Pew study, 91 percent of undocumented immigrant parents who had babies from 2009 to 2010 had already been here several years; just 9 percent of undocumented immigrants who had babies in the past year had arrived in 2008 or later. “The number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000” statistically no different than the 340,000 reported a year earlier. This number represents about 8 percent of U.S. births.
So the truth is that new immigrants are getting settled and having families like people from all over the world that have made this country home before us. Did we really need to double-check that? Sadly, yes. Myth-makers like Rep. King and Sen. Graham hijack real conversations about immigration. They hope to redirect us from simple truths—that our country has always been in a state of becoming; that a racial hierarchy has always dictated who gets to be American; that our economic and environmental policies abroad shape immigration more than whether and how we enforce our borders.
Yet, even with the “anchor baby” argument debunked (again), anti-immigration legislators will continue undeterred. Former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo has launched a campaign to close the “illegal alien anchor baby loophole” with the Team America PAC:
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that approximately 340,000 babies (roughly the population of St. Louis!) are born each year to illegal aliens in the United States. Add in a mother and (sometimes) a father, run those numbers out over time, and you will begin to sense just how serious a part of the illegal immigration crisis the phenomenon of anchor babies are!
Challenging the use of harmful, racially charged language that fuels anti-immigrant ideas is no longer an option. It is the only way that we can move forward. And it is why taking a stand against strategic anti-immigrant language in all its forms is so urgent.
Dropping the I-Word
The Pew report includes a note on terminology that declares “unauthorized immigrants” as the term for “all foreign-born non-citizens residing in the country who are not ‘legal immigrants.’” We welcome Pew Hispanic Center’s move away from inaccurate, racially charged language used in previous reports and headlines. More institutions need to be responsible and reverse course from using language that has dehumanized people and supported myths that hold the public back from understanding this multi-layered issue. Sign and forward the pledge to Drop the I-Word today.