One of the "facts" being thrown around in the swirling debate about immigration is the phenomenon of "anchor babies." The legend is that an illegal immigrant will come to the U.S. and have a baby here. Because that baby is born within the geographical limits of the United States, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the baby automatically a citizen. The parent is then typically allowed to stay in the U.S. to raise the baby, because we are a compassionate people and will neither exile a U.S. citizen based on the accident of her parentage nor split up a parent from her child. Thus, the illegal immigrant is tolerated and remains in the country despite having broken the law to come here.
As this concept flew around the political landscape the past couple of weeks at fever pitch, I wondered to myself, "Is this real? Is there enough of this happening to worry about in reality?" I looked and looked and couldn't find statistics for it anywhere. Tonight, though, it hit the front page of memeorandum and my question is answered: yes, there is some meat on those bones.
According to a reputable polling agency, in 2008, roughly 8% of all babies born in the United States are born to parents who are in the country without legal authorization to be here. Are these "anchor babies"? The result of their birth may be that this is what they are. I still question whether there is a massive intentionality behind the parents of these babies to have the children so as to secure their residence in the U.S. It seems more likely to me that the parents came here, hooked up, and boom, there's a baby which is perhaps not unwelcome but also was not exactly planned for, either. As the Pew Forum report points out, immigrants have a higher birthrate than citizens; as it does not point out but which ought to be fairly obvious, most of them come from heavily religious (generally RCC-dominated) cultures where contraception and abortion are discouraged, and education not valued or available. These things contribute to higher birth rates. They also contribute to large families; how many of those 340,000 babies born each year were the first baby born to the undocumented immigrant parents?
It's also worth nothing that in the same report, 16% of all babies born in the U.S. were born to legal immigrants. That's nearly one in four babies born in the U.S. being born to non-citizen parents. This confirms something I have long said, which is that as a nation we are dependent on immigration for our long-term survival; if you eliminate one-quarter of the live births from our demographics, our population would suddenly be shrinking very rapidly. So for that reason, even though this is far from a majority, it is a large enough number that I think it deserves recognition.
Legal immigrants strike me as being much more likely to have intentionally conceived and given birth here for the purpose of creating an "anchor baby," because these tend to be better-educated people, and people who do not need to hide from the system because they are in compliance with it, and therefore have easier access to medical care, including contraception and abortion, as well as a higher likelihood to have a job and therefore the economic wherewithal to predictably provide for their children. Legal immigrants also strike me as more likely to attempt naturalization than immigrants here illegally. I've no proof of any of the suppositions I offer in this paragraph, by the way; these just seem like plausible conjectures to me.
I'm still not entirely buying into the "anchor babies" legend, because I'm not convinced that there is the systematic sort of intent that moatdigger politicians are insinuating is at play. The parents come here for economic reasons, not for the purpose of having babies in our hospitals. Nor do I think it is fair to attribute a deep understanding of our legal or Constitutional system to them -- they came here looking for jobs, nothing more. But what I do acknowledge is that there is indeed evidence that a significant number of babies being born in the U.S. every year to parents who, according to the black letter of the law, ought not to be here.
The question is, are we so offended and scared by this phenomenon that we are willing to amend our Constitution to prevent it from happening again? I say, let's have more citizen children of legal immigrants. Keep America as the Cadillac destination point for ambitious, and in many cases talented, people from around the world. Get their children integrated into our society, make Americans out of them, and we will be stronger and richer for it.