Belfast Telegraph

‘Anchor baby’ scaremongering a short-term solution

By Jim Dee

These are scary days in America. Mired in two costly wars, the country’s unemployment rate remains devastatingly high, and its fragile economic recovery is stalling.

But, according to one US Senator, still scarier things stalk the land: legions of immigrant ‘anchor babies’ who are a clear and present danger to the American way of life. In fairness, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham wasn’t quite so hyperbolic when recently telling Fox News that pregnant illegal immigrants are crossing the border to “drop a child” in an American hospital in order to win automatic US citizenship for the newborn.

“It’s called ‘drop-and-leave’,” Graham said. “That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.” Senator Graham wants to alter the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution — the provision that guarantees citizenship to anyone born on US soil — so that only children of legal immigrants qualify. America is one of about 30 countries who grant birthright citizenship. Most of Europe, including the UK and the Republic of Ireland require some shade of legal residency, or ancestral connection to qualify for citizenship.

How widespread is ‘birth tourism’ in the US? The simple answer is there is no empirical evidence it exists in any substantive way.

According to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, children born to illegal immigrants comprised 8% of births in America in 2008 — this at a time when the undocumented total about 4% of the population.

But one of the Pew study’s authors told the New York Times that, rather than being progeny |of lightning-quick ‘drop-and-leave’ schemes, roughly 80% of these babies were born of undocumented mothers who’d been living |in the US for more than a year. |The dark cloud of America’s slave-holding past makes the |14th Amendment debate more than just verbal jousting over |the veracity of ‘birth tourism’. Passed in 1868 in order to secure citizenship for freed slaves |and their offspring, it’s considered a foundation stone of the march towards equal rights by African-Americans.

The phrase ‘anchor babies’ deliberately conjures up images of tens of thousands of socially-engineered children counting the days until they can use their US citizenship status to legally haul other relatives across the border.

Of course, there are flaws in the alleged plot — like the fact that they won’t be able to sponsor their parents as legal immigrants until they are 21-years-old. A lot can happen in that time. Given that Republicans would have to gain a two-thirds majority in Congress to amend the constitution (which they haven’t a prayer of attaining in the near term), the ‘birth tourism’ bogeyman seems more about overt electioneering than serious social or political policy.

With the economy still in the dumps, and pundits and polls forecasting a Democratic meltdown in November, Graham might think that providing the anti-immigrant forces with a new scapegoat might seal the deal for the Republicans this autumn. A recent CNN poll found Americans very closely split on the 14th Amendment, with those opposing any change holding a narrow 51-49% edge over those who favour rescinding the birthright provision. Some Republican strategists winced upon hearing Graham’s proposals. And for good reason.

In 2004, George W Bush won re-election partly because he took 44% of the Latino vote. In 2008, Barack Obama trounced John Mc Cain among Hispanics by a 2-to-1 spread. As such, given that many Latinos (America’s fastest growing population) perceive the immigration debate as unfairly |targeted at them, any short-term Republican gains earned by stoking ‘anchor baby’ fears among whites might prove very costly indeed to the Grand Old Party in the long run.

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