American flag with a silhouette of a pregnant woman in front of it
Photo Credit: East LA Gazette

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states 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. This means that if a mother is present in the U.S. when a child is born, then the child… THE. CHILD… is a U.S. citizen. Put a pin in this point.

Few would argue the point that an infant child is wholly dependent on its caregivers, usually its parents, to maintain its well-being, so remaining with the parents seems most logical to secure the child’s welfare. However, there is no legal provision that links the citizenship status of non-U.S. citizen parents to that of their newborn American child. This becomes an issue when the child is born to illegal immigrants in the U.S., and it is also the source of misconceptions about immigration status in this country that often have subtle… and overt… racial and political undertones.

The “Anchor Baby” Myth
There are many Americans who believe that illegal immigrants deliberately plan to have children on U.S. soil in order to circumvent the immigration system and secure legal status. I will also admit that there are a number of immigrants who believe this to be an effective pathway to U.S. citizenship. These children have been given the moniker “anchor babies”, because they supposedly stall deportation action against their immediate family members, who now fall under the protective force field of the baby’s legal citizenship status.

However, the truth is that a child’s citizenship status does nothing to improve her parents’ immigration status in the U.S. The parents remain subject to deportation and any other legal consequences of their illegal status despite having a citizen child. In fact, a 2013 report noted that each year 153,000 citizen children could have one or more parent deported if the current detain-and deport policies remain in place. 

The result is these children are either left in this country with family members, put into the foster care system, or they return to the home country with their family. These children often have negative mental health consequences from the stress of losing one or both parents, a sharp decline in the family’s income, housing and food security, or facing the unknown, harsh, and oftentimes dangerous environment in the home countries their families fled due to fear or abject poverty in the first place.
So, am I telling you that having a citizen child cannot garner parents U.S. citizenship? No. A citizen child is able to sponsor her parents to get green cards… once she turns 21 years old. Even at that time, the parents need to meet very specific character criteria in order to qualify for lawful permanent resident status. This is hardly the speedy, jump-to-the-head-of-the-line strategy described in the rhetoric of those who want to limit or revoke birthright status of the children of illegal immigrants. In fact, those in law and politics know that birthright citizenship serves no immediate benefit to illegal immigrant parents, but those kind of pesky facts do not support their objective of limiting the growing presence of immigrants in the U.S., particularly from poor countries, nor does it incite the level of rage and fervor in the supporters they seek in order to further promote an anti-immigration message. Facts are always getting in the way of personal opinion!

Birth Tourism
In tangentially-related other news, there is a growing practice taking place in the U.S., called “birth tourism.” Women from foreign countries, mainly China and Russia, are paying tens of thousands of dollars to temporarily relocate to the U.S. during their pregnancy in order to give birth in the U.S. and thereby guarantee U.S. citizenship for their child. Needless to say, these are almost always women of means who can afford this practice, and dual U.S. citizenship and passports are seen as status symbols in their home countries.

The federal government and immigration authorities are trying to crack down on this practice. As previously mentioned, it is not illegal, per se, to travel to the U.S. and have a baby while you are here. However, the popularization of this trend has spurred an industry that assists pregnant women to gain visas, lodging, and medical care in the U.S. These visas are often applied for using false statements as to why the women are traveling to the U.S., and that is where the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement get involved. Federal authorities couch their concern about birth tourism in the usurping of American laws by foreigners to gain the prized benefit of U.S. citizenship. It is a valid concern, but I must note that the primary objective of these “tourist” is to gain entry to this country through subterfuge in order to acquire citizenship for their children the way they would walk into Tiffany’s and buy the child a jewel-encrusted rattle. It is sought as an accessory, not a life-altering or even life-saving opportunity for betterment. I would also be remiss if I did not mention that this frivolous poaching of the most coveted of America’s assets – the ability to be a U.S. citizen – is not drawing the same level of ire from the anti-immigration faction.

pro-immigration protestor

If all our immigrants came from Norway, we would have no problems!
President Trump’s recent inflammatory statements about immigrants from countries that he, shall we say, finds less than desirable, evinces the not-so-subtle racial and cultural subtext of this country’s immigration debate. It is irresponsible and disingenuous for anyone to form an opinion about immigration policy in this country without acknowledging that much of the negative rhetoric about immigration references people from poor countries, most of which have brown-skinned people. That is simply a fact, but again, we have noted how annoying facts can be when they try to compel someone to see that their opinion JUST MIGHT be misinformed or even *GASP* dead wrong.

By the way, Norway has a $1 trillion national pension fund for its entire citizenry, and universal health care. They will not be clamoring to come to the U.S. anytime soon.