The Other Side of the Anchor: Where Else Do American-born Kids Belong?

Aug 26, 2010

The screeds about "anchor babies" in the media reflect the scale of the paranoia about a foreign invasion destroying America from within. Implicit in the idea of the "dropped" baby is the notion that simply being born in America doesn’t make you any less of a foreigner, and that these children of immigrants actually belong back in their parents’ country of origin. While the alienation of immigrants has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of ever-deepening segregation, the dispute about which children "belong" here should be answered simply by asking, what else would a kid born and raised in America be, other than American? Latino America, a reporting project based at Arizona State University, looks at the consequences for American-born children who are forced to return to Mexico. (h/t Immigration Prof) Consider the family of Margaret Acuitlapa, a U.S. citizen who moved with her three children to Mexico to follow her deported husband:

"The first year we were here, we were treated as strangers," Acuitlapa said of her family’s arrival in Malinalco, a small town in southwestern Mexico. "Things were unpleasant for all of us."… Although she moved to keep her family together, the life they have faced in Mexico has put different strains on her marriage, and her children. "Our kids didn’t speak any Spanish when we moved here. Even now, my 10-year-old daughter is reading at a second-grade level," she said of the struggles her children have faced in school. "My 15-year-old son is still having a hard time with everything."

An older youth imagines life as another kind of "alien":

Kendrick Nunez, 18, is one of those citizen children who would be affected if the "anchor baby" bill became law. He and his citizen sister currently live in Arkansas without their parents, who were deported to Mexico. He finds the logic of the movement confusing. "That seems unreasonable. What, you’re just born in the air?" Nunez says. "I recognize there is a problem, but there has to be a better solution." Nunez and his younger sister initially followed their parents and other siblings to Mexico but returned to the United States so they could continue studying within the American education system. "I didn’t go to school when I was in Mexico. I spent my time working — in a car wash, a water park, a field," Nunez said. "I was illegal there. All my best friends in Arkansas were graduating. I felt like I was missing out on something."

It’s like a reverse mirror image of the undocumented experience in the U.S.: the cultural alienation, low-wage jobs preempting opportunities for education. Nunez, the "anchor baby" whom many immigration restrictionists want to "send home" to Mexico, finds himself "illegal" on that side of the border. The experience is repeated over and over again for deportees who find themselves not just separated from loved ones, but alienated and often demonized once repatriated. The redemption story of Qing Hong Wu–a former delinquent who was saved from deportation by the state at the last minute–is the rare exception that underscores the rule. The assumption behind the "anchor baby" myth is that birthright citizenship is not natural, that an immigrant mother’s connection to her progeny is merely through her womb, as opposed to the nurturing, labor and aspirations she’s poured into her child on American soil. Yet the dehumanizing language betrays a cruelly determinist concept of parenthood, because the one "American" inheritance that the mother passes onto the baby is the violation of a draconian immigration law. We accept the term "naturalization" to describe the process of the foreign-born taking on a new citizenship. What could be more natural than being accepted as a citizen of the only home you’ve ever known?