Now Reading
Report weighs in on 'anchor baby' debate

From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.

Report weighs in on 'anchor baby' debate

  • Herkie/Flickr

About 1 in 15 children in the U.S. - 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in 2008 - has a parent who is an illegal immigrant, a new report says.

Nearly 80 percent of those children are born in the United States, making them citizens, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a study issued Thursday.

The recent political meme of widespread "anchor babies" - children born to immigrants who crossed the border specifically to give their child U.S. citizenship - has led many to call for removing birthright citizenship from the Constitution.

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham has - along with Arizona's GOP state Sen. Russell Pearce and others - been been leading a charge to change the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to who are born in the U.S. Arizona's Sen. Jon Kyl called for hearings on modifying the Constitution.

Graham recently told Fox News:

People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child. 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. That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.

The data shows that most so-called "anchor babies" are born to mothers who are already in the U.S. Jeff Passel, a co-author of the report, told Time that "'well over 80%' of the 340,000 births cited in the report happened to women who had been in the U.S. more than one year."

Politifact examined the issue last week, and found little evidence of "drop and leave" mothers:

James Dickson, the administrator and CEO of Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Ariz., located five miles from the Mexico border, told us that his hospital hasn't offered obstetrical services in a few years, but when it did, he did not see anything like what Graham is describing. "We had some" people who came to have a baby in the U.S., he said, but their goal was not citizenship. It was higher quality treatment or specific services that were unavailable in Mexico.

A further question is whether the birthright citizenship guaranteed by the Consititution increases illegal immigration. While undocumented immigrants can receive assistance with food and health care costs for children who are citizens, there are strict limits on such parents getting relief from deportation.

"Only 4,000 unauthorized immigrants can receive such status per year, and the alien has to have been in the U.S. for at least 10 years," reported Politifact.

A citizen child must wait until age 21 to sponsor other family members, including parents, for permanent residency.

Some have imputed illegal immigrant parents with motives more evil than economic, reported CNN:

Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican, pointed out another concern on CNN's "AC 360" program Tuesday night. Some pregnant women from other countries are traveling to the United States to give birth and then taking their babies back home to raise them as terrorists that would return to attack America, she said.

Information for that "sinister issue," Riddle said, is coming from from former FBI officials she declined to name.

"This is something that is being talked about by various members of Congress," she said.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat, disputed the claim, calling it "the myth of anchor babies."

"For that to rise to some sort of national security concern is really unsubstantiated," Anchia said. "The 9/11 bombers were all here legally. The Times Square bomber was a naturalized citizen. He was not an anchor baby."

Polls show that limited support for changing the Consititution. From the Pew study:

In recent weeks, a number of prominent elected officials have called for the repeal of birthright citizenship, which they argue serves as one of the magnets that attract undocumented immigrants to the United States. A nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in June found that, by 56% to 41%, the public opposes changing this provision of the Constitution.

Pew was unable to determine how many children in the study have parents of mixed status - one legal and one undocumented parent.

But Pew did learn that children of undocumented parents are more likely to have two-parent homes. Illegal immigrants are more likely than both legal immigrants and native-born adults to live in a nuclear family, the study found.

45 percent of illegal immigrants live with a spouse or partner and a one or more children. 34 percent of legal immigrants and 21 percent of U.S.-born adults live in such family units.


Clarifying comments he made last week, U.S. Sen. John McCain said Friday that he does not support holding hearings on changing the 14th Amendment.

What's your take?

Does birthright citizenship encourage illegal immigration? Should the 14th Amendment be changed? What, if anything, should be done regarding babies who have one legal and one undocumented parent? Are terrorists really gaining U.S. citizenship for their offspring?

“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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

— 14th Amendment


Pew Hispanic Center: Unauthorized Immigrants and Their U.S.-Born Children

— 30 —

Best in Internet Exploder