Anchor baby

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Anchor baby is a pejorative[1][2] term for a child born in the U.S. to a foreign national mother who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence.[3] The term is generally used as a derogatory reference to the supposed role of the child, who automatically qualifies as an American citizen under jus soli and the rights guaranteed in the 14th Amendment and can thus act as a sponsor for other family members.[4][5] The term is also often used in the context of the debate over illegal immigration to the United States to refer to children of illegal immigrants, but may be used for the child of any immigrant.[6] A similar term, "passport baby", has been used in Canada for children born through so-called "maternity" or "birth tourism".[7][8]

There is a popular misconception that the child's U.S. citizenship status legally helps the child's parents and siblings to quickly reclassify their visa status (or lack thereof) and to place them on a fast pathway to acquire lawful permanent residence and eventually United States citizenship.[9][10] Current U.S. federal law prevents anyone under the age of 21 from being able to petition for their non-citizen parent to be lawfully admitted into the United States for permanent residence. At best, the child's family would need to wait for 21 years before being able to use their child's US citizenship to modify their immigration status, and is thus, unhelpful for immigration purposes.[11]

History and usage

A related term, "anchor child", referring in this case to "very young immigrants who will later sponsor immigration for family members who are still abroad", was used in reference to Vietnamese boat people from about 1987.[6][12][13][14][15] "Anchor baby" appeared in print in 1996, but remained relatively obscure until 2006, when it found new prominence amid the increased focus on the immigration debate in the United States.[4][6][15][16] Lexicographer Grant Barrett nominated the term for the American Dialect Society's 2006 Word of the Year.[15]

It is generally considered pejorative.[17] In 2011 the American Heritage Dictionary added an entry for the term in the dictionary's new edition, which did not indicate that the term was disparaging. Following a critical blog piece by Mary Giovagnoli, the director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration research group in Washington, the dictionary updated its online definition to indicate that the term is "offensive", similar to its entries on ethnic slurs.[16][18] As of 2012, the definition reads:

n. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially when the child's birthplace is thought to have been chosen in order to improve the mother's or other relatives' chances of securing eventual citizenship.

The decision to revise the definition led to some criticism from illegal immigration opponents.[19] Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates tighter restrictions on immigration,[20] argues that defining the term as offensive is inaccurate and is done for purposes of political rhetoric; according to Krikorian, "'[An anchor baby] is a child born to an illegal immigrant,'" and the revision of the definition to state that the term is offensive was done to make a political statement.[19] According to Fox News:

Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based organization that seeks to end illegal immigration, said the revised definition panders to a small but vocal group of critics who are "manipulating the political, cultural and now linguistic landscape" of the United States. "Publishing word definitions to fit politically correct molds surrenders the language to drive an agenda," Dane told "This dictionary becomes a textbook for the open borders lobby."[19]

According to the Double-Tongued Dictionary, written by American lexicographer Grant Barrett, the term "anchor baby" means "a child born of an immigrant in the United States, said to be a device by which a family can find legal foothold in the US, since those children are automatically allowed to choose United States citizenship." In response to a reader comment, Barrett claimed that the term is used to refer to a child of any immigrant, not just children of illegal immigrants.[21]

In 2012, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, in a meeting designed to promote the 2010 Utah Compact declaration as a model for a federal government approach to immigration, said that "The use of the word 'anchor baby' when we're talking about a child of God is offensive."[22]

Maternity tourism industry

As of 2015, Los Angeles is considered the center of the maternity tourism industry, which caters mostly to wealthy Asian women;[23] authorities in the city there closed 14 maternity tourism "hotels" in 2013.[24] The industry is difficult to close down since it is not illegal for a pregnant woman to travel to the U.S.[24]

On March 3, 2015 Federal Agents in Los Angeles conducted a series of raids on 3 "multimillion-dollar birth-tourism businesses" expected to produce the "biggest federal criminal case ever against the booming 'anchor baby' industry", according to the Wall Street Journal.[24][25]

Immigration status

The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution indicates that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizenship for nearly all individuals born in the United States, provided that their parents are foreign citizens, have permanent domicile status in the United States, and are engaging in business in the United States except performing in a diplomatic or official capacity of a foreign power.

As of 2015, there has been no Supreme Court decision that explicitly holds that persons born in the U.S. to illegal aliens are automatically afforded U.S. citizenship.[26][27][28][29][30][31] Edward Erler, writing for the Claremont Institute, said that since the Wong Kim Ark case dealt with someone whose parents were in the United States legally, it provides no valid basis under the 14th Amendment for the practice of granting citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. He goes on to argue that if governmental permission for parental entry is a necessary requirement for bestowal of birthright citizenship, then children of illegal aliens must surely be excluded.[32]

Statistics show that a significant, and rising, number of illegal aliens are having children in the United States, but there is mixed evidence that acquiring citizenship for the parents is their goal.[27] According to PolitFact of the St. Petersburg Times, the immigration benefits of having a child born in the United States are limited. Citizen children cannot sponsor parents for entry into the country until they are 21 years of age, and if the parent had ever been in the country illegally, they would have to show they had left and not returned for at least ten years; however, pregnant and nursing mothers could receive food vouchers through the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and enroll the children in Medicaid.[27]

Parents of citizen children who have been in the country for ten years or more can also apply for relief from deportation, though only 4,000 persons a year can receive relief status; as such, according to PolitFact, having a child in order to gain citizenship for the parents is "an extremely long-term, and uncertain, process."[27] Approximately 88,000 legal-resident parents of US citizen children were deported in the 2000s, most for minor criminal convictions.[33]


Some critics of illegal immigration claim the United States' "birthright citizenship" is an incentive for illegal immigration, and that immigrants come to the country to give birth specifically so that their child will be an American citizen. The majority of children of illegal immigrants in the United States are citizens, and the number has risen. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, an estimated 73% of children of illegal immigrants were citizens in 2008, up from 63% in 2003. A total of 3.8 million unauthorized immigrants had at least one child who is an American citizen. In investigating a claim by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, PolitiFact found mixed evidence to support the idea that citizenship was the motivating factor.[27] PolitiFact concludes that "[t]he data suggests that the motivator for illegal immigrants is the search for work and a better economic standing over the long term, not quickie citizenship for U.S.-born babies."[27]

There has been a growing trend, especially amongst Asian visitors from Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Taiwan to the United States,[34] to make use of "Birth Hotels" to secure US citizenship for their child and leave open the possibility of future immigration by the parents to the United States.[35][36] The U.S. government estimates that there were 7,462 births to foreign residents in 2008[37] while the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that 40,000 births are born to "birth tourists" annually.[37] Pregnant women typically spend around $20,000 to stay in the facilities during their final months of pregnancy and an additional month to recuperate and await their new baby's U.S. passport.[38] In some cases, the birth of a Canadian[39] or American[40] child to mainland Chinese parents is a means to circumvent the one-child policy in China;[41] Hong Kong[42] and the Northern Mariana Islands[43] were also popular destinations before more restrictive local regulation impeded traffic. Some prospective mothers misrepresent their intentions of coming to the United States, a violation of U.S. immigration law; however, it is not illegal for a woman to come to the U.S. to give birth.[44]


On August 17, 2006, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn used the term "anchor baby" in reference to Saul Arellano, in a column critical of his mother, who had been given sanctuary at a Chicago church after evading a deportation order.[45] After receiving two complaints, the next day Eric Zorn stated in his defense in his Chicago Tribune blog that the term had appeared in newspaper stories since 1997, "usually softened by quotations as in my column", and stated that he regretted having used the term in his column and promised not to use it again in the future.

On August 23, 2007, the San Diego, California-area North County Times came under criticism from one of its former columnists, Raoul Lowery Contreras, in a column titled "'Anchor babies' is hate speech", for allowing the term "anchor baby" to be printed in letters and opinion pieces.[46]

On April 15, 2014, during a televised immigration debate with San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro, Texas Senator Dan Patrick came under criticism when he used the term "anchor babies" while describing his own view of some of the immigration issues the state of Texas faced.[47][48]

On November 14, 2014, CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo used the term on New Day: "Breaking overnight, President Obama has a plan to overhaul the immigration system on his own -- an executive order on anchor babies entitling millions to stay in the U.S. Republicans say this would be war. Is the word "shutdown" actually being used already?" Chris Cuomo later apologized for the comment, " OK, now, do they? Because let's think through what this issue actually is on the other side of it. This issue is called the "anchor babies." I used that term this morning. I shouldn't have. It's ugly and it's offensive to what it is. What it really goes to is the root of the most destructive part of our current immigration policy, you're splitting up families. They come here, here illegally, they have a baby, and the family gets split up. Maybe the kid stays. We don't have a workable formation. This goes to the heart of the Latino vote because it shows a real lack of sympathy. You have to come up with some kind of fix. So why avoid this one? Don't you have to take it on?"[49]

See also


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  3. "Anchor Baby". Oxford Dictionary. 1 November 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Barrett, Grant (December 24, 2006). "Buzzwords: Glossary". New York Times. anchor baby: a derogatory term for a child born in the United States to an immigrant. Since these children automatically qualify as American citizens, they can later act as a sponsor for other family members.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Zorn, Eric (August 18, 2006). "Sinking 'Anchor Babies". Chicago Tribune. 'They use it to spark resentment against immigrants,' Rivlin said of his ideological foes. 'They use it to make these children sound non-human.' To me, that's good enough reason to regret having used it and to decide not to use it in the future.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "anchor baby". Double Tongued Dictionary. Anchor baby: n. a child born of an immigrant in the United States, said to be a device by which a family can find legal foothold in the US, since those children are automatically allowed to choose American citizenship. Also anchor child, a very young immigrant who will later sponsor citizenship for family members who are still abroad.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Tory crackdown on 'birth tourists' will eliminate Canadian passport babies". National Post. Retrieved 2013-11-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. "A Profile of a Lost Generation". Los Angeles Times Magazine. December 13, 1987. p. 12. They are “anchor children,” saddled with the extra burden of having to attain a financial foothold in America to sponsor family members who remain in Vietnam.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Kelly, Frances (June 2, 1991). "Sympathy for the boat people is wearing thin". Toronto Star. p. H2. Known as “anchor” children, aid workers say the youngsters are put on boats by families who hope they’ll be resettled in the United States or Canada and can then apply to have their families join them.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading