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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Are "Anchor Babies" Really a Problem?

As I've noted before, Donald Trump has stirred up the immigration pot with his racist rhetoric aimed especially at undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Note, by the way, that not all undocumented immigrants are from Mexico--check out the infographic I referenced a few days ago). Note also that a large fraction of undocumented immigrants arrive on planes, rather than crossing the U.S.-Mexico, as my son, Greg Weeks, pointed out today. One of the issues raised once again by Trump is the fact than anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a U.S. citizen. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed after the Civil War to make sure that former slaves would not be denied U.S. citizenship. Since U.S. laws also allow U.S. citizens to apply for legal admission for their close relatives (the "family preference" provisions of U.S. immigration laws), it means that eventually a child born in the U.S. could apply to bring their parents legally into the U.S. But the key here is "eventually." The child will have to be at least 21 years old when they make the application (as a result of laws passed during the Jimmy Carter administration) and it will likely take many years for an entry visa to be issued because they are subject to annual limits. So, even if an undocumented woman did choose deliberately to have her baby born in the U.S. in order to "link" her to a U.S. citizen, she will probably have to wait a minimum of three decades for that to come about. For a good background on these issues, I recommend Leo Chavez's 2008 book, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation.

In the meantime, however, the fuss is not really about anchor babies or even about undocumented immigrants. Eric Posner of the University of Chicago has a very good op-ed piece in Slate in which he argues that the issue that Trump has raised is about differences in culture. That's what this is all about--a classic case of xenophobia. Every immigrant group coming to the U.S. has been discriminated against and bullied by the "mainstream" until finally making it into the mainstream--and changing American culture in the process. Think about it--Ben Franklin was worried about German immigrants more than two hundred years ago. Now, the census data show that more Americans claim some German heritage than any other ethnic origin. They became part of the mainstream along with the Irish, Italians, Poles, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and--increasingly--Mexicans (and, of course, I've left lots of cultural backgrounds off the list for sake of brevity). Posner very cogently concludes that "...defenders of immigration might do best to thread their way through the minefield of culture—to argue that immigration does not harm American culture and probably enriches it—rather than pretend that these concerns do not exist.

Anchor babies are not the problem--fear of cultural differences is the problem, and every human society has this same problem. We need to talk about it, so we can deal with it.

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