This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anchor Babies Stir Up the Immigration Debate

The new year and a new Republican majority in the US House of Representatives have stirred up the immigration debate, with a renewed focus on anchor babies--children born in the US to non-citizens. The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, no matter what the status might be of their parents. This amendment was passed after the Civil War because the Supreme Court, in the famous Dred Scott decision just prior to the Civil War, had ruled that persons of African descent could not become US citizens. The 14th amendment repudiated that decision and a later Supreme Court decision applied the birthright principle clearly to immigrants. 


The issue, however, is really not about the 14th amendment, but about the reasons why people migrate to the United States. Although some women from Mexico do cross the border to deliver babies in the United States, having a child in the United States is certainly not the reason for high levels of undocumented immigration. People come looking for work and since it is young adults who predominate in the migrant stream, they are likely to wind up getting pregnant and having children in the United States. (Note: I have seen no one suggesting that what we need is to increase the number of family planning providers to undocumented immigrants.) Nonetheless, as reported today in the NY Times, Arizona is leading the way on the anchor baby issue.



This time, though, Arizona lawmakers intend to join with legislators from other states to force the issue before the Supreme Court.
This coalition of lawmakers will unveil its exact plans on Wednesday in Washington, but people involved in drafting the legislation say they have decided against the painstaking process of amending the Constitution. Since the federal government decides who is to be deemed a citizen, the lawmakers are considering instead a move to create two kinds of birth certificates in their states, one for the children of citizens and another for the children of illegal immigrants.
The theory is that this could spark a flurry of lawsuits that might resolve the legal conflict in their favor.
“This is not a far-out, extremist position,” said John Kavanagh, one of the Arizona legislators who is leading an effort that has been called just that. “Only a handful of countries in the world grant citizenship based on the GPS location of the birth.”
While it is true that very few countries in the world grant automatic citizenship to a person born in their territory, the anchor baby issue is not really about that. It is about the ability of that child later (upon reaching age 21) to sponsor relatives--such as his or her parents--to migrate legally to the United States. Thus, the issue is really about the family preference system in the US, not about birthright per se. Overall, then, it is hard to see anything in the anchor baby fight that will impact immigration to the United States in any measurable way.

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