By Pamela Chan
September 17, 2015
Caption : This week, a derogatory term has re-emerged—“anchor babies.” The term is gaining traction on the 2016 presidential campaign, and as candidates debate immigration policies, some want to end the practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Others offer alternative solutions. Some of us, however, just need to get a better grasp on the situation.     

Recently, a derogatory term has re-emerged—“anchor babies.” The term is gaining traction on the 2016 presidential campaign, and as candidates debate immigration policies, some want to end the practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Others continue to offer alternative solutions. Some of us, however, just need to get a better grasp on the situation.

Known as “birthright citizenship,” which delineates from the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the current controversy stems from the notion that the immigrant parents of American-born children are hoping to gain legal status through them.

Despite the heated reputation the term holds, politicians far and wide seem to be embracing it, causing further controversies, turmoil, and debates all around. Multiple Republican presidential candidates have followed Trump’s lead in its use while Democrats have shared different opinions. The situation is indeed a mess for the entire nation. For those who are still up in the air about it all, here are a few details to provide further explanation.

Past And Present: Where Did The Term Come From?

The book “Race and Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic” notes the term was first used to describe the children of Vietnamese immigrants who escaped conflict in the 1980s and 1990s (in relation to what was originally coined as ‘anchor child’). At the time, the idea was that children were dropped off “like an anchor” in the U.S., making it more unlikely for the child’s family to leave. In later years, the metaphor would also let anchor babies form a chain migration allowing them to sponsor other immediate family members.

It has been used in the 21st century on “extreme right-wing and anti-immigrant sites” mainly to oppose undocumented immigrants, according to a 2011 “Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication” study. By 2006, conservative lawmakers were using the term in their attempts to pass anti-immigration bills through the House and Senate. These days, “anchor baby” seems to paint the portrait of pregnant women (mainly Latinos and Asians) crossing, or as many put it, ‘hopping’ over a border wall to give birth in America in order to claim legal status through their new familial ties.

Problems And Concerns: Offensive, Yes Or no?

Use of the term is considered to be dehumanizing and racist. Unlike its counterpart “illegal,” “anchor baby” implies rather clearly that undocumented immigrant mothers are having children in the United States with the sole purpose of gaining citizenship.

Immigration advocates like Mary Giovagnoli, the Director of the Immigration Policy Center, find it incredibly offensive, a “wholly American term, one mired in the politics of anti-immigrant rhetoric.” In the same article, written in 2011 for the American Immigration Council, Giovagnoli also found the term to be “poisonous” and demeaning to “both parent and child.” Attorney and USA Today contributor Raul Reyes points out in a CNN article the “sting” of this term, saying the word “’anchor baby’ is a disgusting slur. It is inaccurate as well as offensive. It is dehumanizing to Latinos, immigrants and children who are as American as you and me.”

In regards to Asian Americans, Rep. Grace Meng of New York told reporters in a recent call she takes particular issue because it pits “one group against the other.” Erika Lee, the director of the Immigration History Research Center, mentioned at the University of Minnesota that “there seems to be very little effort to mobilize the Asian-American vote. So to have Asian-Americans enter into this debate as potential ‘anchor babies’ is—people feel like it represents the disregard that politicians have for Asian-Americans.”

Myth? Truth? Fact? Decide For yourself.

Like it or not, the very idea that any woman can come into this country to “drop and leave” American citizens is hardly realistic. First off, “having a baby to secure citizenship for its parents is an extremely long-term, and uncertain, process,” Politifact pointed out in a 2010 article. Citizen children cannot sponsor parents until they turn 21 and bearing U.S. citizen children does not guarantee that families will not be visited by immigration authorities. And finally, as the Washington Post so boldly emphasizes, using a child to secure one’s own citizenship is not only a tedious and time-consuming plan, but one that often produces no immediate outcomes, guarantees, or results. Something to think about.

Get updates on these issues and more! Sign up to receive email updates on the latest actions, events, and updates impacting 18- to 35-year-olds.