By Joe Guzzardi
March 27, 2012
According to a recent Migratory Policy Institute report, 24 percent of the 70.6 million children living in the United States in 2010 have at least one immigrant parent. The total reflects the overall increase in immigration into the United States but reveals almost nothing about the long term consequences of adding to population growth through an expansive federal immigration policy and lax border enforcement.
More worrisome is that the report didn’t mention how many of those children have been born to illegal immigrant parents and are therefore what’s commonly referred to as anchor babies. Current estimates calculate that about 8 percent of all children born every year in the U.S., roughly 350,000, have alien parents and are therefore granted automatic birthright citizenship. Illegal immigrants’ children make up 7 percent of the nation’s 18-year-old and younger population.
An anchor baby’s significance vis-à-vis immigration law is often lost on the general public. In a nutshell, a child’s citizen status provides his parents with virtual ironclad protection from deportation. Immigration officials are much less likely to deport parents with minor, American citizen children than they are childless aliens. The child, if effect, “anchors” his parents to the United States. When citizen children become adults, they can petition for legal status for their parents who, in turn, also petition other family members still living abroad. All these steps, bundled together, create another immigration phenomenon known as chain migration.
Awarding citizenship to children born on U.S. soil to parents who have broken America’s laws is the height of folly. No European country does it. As citizens, the youthful demographic is entitled to various welfare subsidies and other services. Parents, even though legally disqualified from welfare, can receive food stamps and Medicaid on behalf of their children. On average, 40 percent of alien-headed households collect welfare benefits. In states with high immigration like California or New York, the average is nearly 50 percent.
The debate surrounding anchor baby citizenship has been simmering for several years without boiling over. But every time a think tank like the Migration Policy Institute releases new data that show immigration levels increasing without interruption from one year to the next, the need for permanent correction in the misinterpretation of the 14th Constitutional amendment becomes more pressing. As applied today, the 14th Amendment grants citizenship under jus soli—if you’re born here, you’re a citizen. This has spawned serious, more sophisticated immigration abuses beyond simply crossing the border to have a baby. The birth tourism industry that offers pregnant women packages to travel to the United States for pre- and post-natal care has flourished.
However, Constitutional scholars point out that citizenship is awarded pursuant to federal statute and that the Supreme Court has never rendered a decision on a related case. Academics claim that the 14th Amendment was originally written to guarantee citizenship to freed black slaves after the Civil War.
The Senate and the House have introduced bills that would grant citizenship only to children who have at least one American-born or legal immigrant parent. But, despite their importance, these bills have been viewed as fraught with political repercussions. Co-sponsors are few.
As of 2010, the United States’ immigrant population was 40 percent of the total. Some states experienced alarmingly high, unsustainable immigration growth. Among them were Alabama (92 percent), South Carolina (88 percent), Tennessee (82 percent), Arkansas (79 percent) and Kentucky (75 percent). Much of that growth has been incentivized by the prospect of American citizenship.
In election year 2012, population growth and its link to immigration is, without question, one of the most important but least discussed subjects on the campaign trail.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]