Debunking the ‘anchor baby’ argumentPolitically Aware Thursday, September 17th, 2015
Commentary: Politically Aware
I have conservative friends with whom I enjoy discussing policy issues. Sometimes I educate. Sometimes I learn. Sometimes we find common ground.
Occasionally they say something that lets me know I should give up on a conversation that is going nowhere. Like when they say “anchor baby.”
Let’s unpack this, because that phrase is so wrong that it shouldn’t be uttered. When it is, the speaker might be taken seriously as a threat, but not as an intellectual.
The first problem is that “anchor baby” makes no linguistic sense. Merriam Webster defines “anchor” as: a heavy device that is attached to a boat or ship by a rope or chain and that is thrown into the water to hold the boat or ship in place. Does that sound like something a baby can do?
An alternate definition is: a person or thing that provides strength and support. Again, can a baby do that? If there is something that anchors an immigrant family to the United States, it is the adult’s hard work to find a job and make a living here, not whether they have a child who is a citizen.
Which brings us to issue number two: a child who is a citizen doesn’t really help the parents. They don’t get automatic legal status because their offspring is a citizen. According to immigration law, the best the parents get is the advantage of having a sponsor – when their child is 21. They would still have to leave for years before they could be considered for a green card.
Any consideration given to the parents of native born American citizens is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the same process President Obama has invoked (and conservatives have attacked) in allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). I’m happy to debate those rules with conservatives as part of immigration policy.
But not birth right citizenship, because it isn’t an immigration policy. It’s an anti-slavery policy. I know this, because it is in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed after the Civil War. Four score and seven years belated, America made it clear that former slaves and their children were full five fifths American citizens. Over the significant hurdles to amending the Constitution, they said “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.”
I don’t believe it was a mistake, or that those building fathers took it lightly. I think they anticipated what we see now, and have seen with every wave of immigration. Americans look at new people as “other.” If they are “other” for generations on end, they could become second class citizens akin to slavery. Making native born children American citizens is a barrier to perpetual discrimination. Birth right citizenship hasn’t ended racial and ethnic bias, but it is the best check we have on our most regrettable history. The next time someone rails against “anchor babies”, don’t engage them on open borders. Ask them why they would perpetuate a second class of Americans.
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