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The Revival of the Racist Myth of the Anchor Baby

Anyone watching the news knows that the old racist term “Anchor Babies” is being thrown around a lot these day. The phrase has no legal meaning, but it is used to question the citizenship of Latinos born in the United States.

I live on Long Island and have seen Latinos speak at local and county hearings. When they identify themselves as “born in the U.S.” someone or another in the audience is likely to murmur “Anchor Baby.” It is a way of dismissing Latinos as "not really American."

While those who use the phrase claim it is not racist, I never heard it used against white people, only Latinos. There are a few assumptions behind behind the phrase. The first is that the Latino’s parents were undocumented immigrants. Since the vast majority of Latinos in the United States are citizens or permanent residents, this assumption in itself is racially biased.

The second assumption is that the parents only had the child to secure permanent residence for themselves. This is perhaps the most insulting aspect of the “Anchor Baby” myth. In the minds of those infected with an anti-immigrant viewpoint, Latinos don’t have children because they love them, they have children to get a Green Card.

What these folks ignore is the simple fact that if an undocumented woman gives birth to a child in the United States, she does not get the Green Card that the anti-immigrant activists seem to think is handed out in the hospital along with the free Pampers coupons. While the child is a United States citizen, the mother and father do not get legal status as a result of the birth.

The child will not be able to apply for permanent residence for his or her mom until the baby grows up and turns 21. Only then can an application be filed. Since mom was here without legal authorization, she will have to return home for ten years, in most cases, before she can come back to the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident. This is becuase of the "Ten Year Bar" for undocumented immigrants requiring them to leave the country for ten years before returning. 

The three decades between when the baby is born and when the mom gets her Green Card is a major reason that the “Anchor Baby” is a useful myth for those who oppose immigrants. If moms could get their permanent residency right away and then their citizenship, there would be so many immigrant voters that politicians would not dare to speak of “Anchor Babies.”

We cannot allow the use of terms like "Anchor Baby." It is not only demaning, it is also legally and Constitutionally inaccurate.

Over the next few days I will address a variety of issues having to do with Birthright Citizenship, how it came to be, and why it is best for America that it continue.

Pat Young is an attorney with CARECEN.

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