Friday, August 6, 2010

The mythology of "the anchor babies"

With the good news of the blockage of certain parts of Arizona's SB 1070 last week, other spheres of the anti-immigrant hysteria sweeping the southwest are being ramped up, including a new flurry of efforts to end the constitutionally protected birthright citizenship that, yes, even the children of undocumented immigrants get to enjoy.

This talk of "anchor babies" is incredibly dehumanizing, xenophobic, and nationalist in some really frightening ways. It is rooted in a fear that Latinas are crossing the border to have a child so that they then have a legitimate claim to remain in the U.S. and leach off of our welfare system. The very notion of "anchor babies" is as dehumanizing to undocumented women as it is to their babies. But how to respond to someone raving about the "invasion by birth canal" (yes, a fellow human being said it), other than just pointing out their chilling sense of entitlement and fear?

I found this recent article in The Nation really helpful:
Like the slur "anchor baby" itself, each of these claims is a fallacy. Far from "anchoring" their parents to US soil, many children born to undocumented immigrants are seeing them be deported. And for all the rhetoric spewed by the right about the need for tough new legislation to combat the immigrant "invasion," laws governing immigration to the United States have gotten more restrictive in the past fifteen years.

Today, a citizen must be 21 in order to sponsor the green card application of a parent or an immediate relative. The applicant must then show documentation proving that he or she has not been in the United States unlawfully for more than one year. Barring such proof—the primary obstacle most immigrants face—the parent must return to the country of origin for ten years before being allowed to lawfully re-enter the United States and resume the application process. This is commonly referred to as the "touchback rule," explains María Blanco, director of the Earl Warren Institute at the UC, Berkeley, School of Law, and it is among the most insurmountable restrictions placed on the legal naturalization process in the name of "immigration reform" passed in 1996.

Templeton also points out that there are very few welfare benefits even legal immigrants can access, especially in the libertarian border states receiving most attention, like Arizona. Additionally, and most frighteningly, immigrant women are much less likely to seek medical care in hospitals if they are undocumented, for the very fear that they will be deported or jailed. This makes the recent leak of the names of some immigrants seeking services for their children who are U.S. citizens by two Utah state employees even more disconcerting.

Overall, these are useful facts to calm the anchor baby alarmists down. But I feel a little uncomfortable leaving it at "they aren't really taking much from us, so don't worry," and not addressing the very assumption that children of undocumented immigrants or anyone present in our communities is not entitled to the very same protections those of us lucky enough to have many generations of citizens in our families.

I'm curious to know any other strategies and lines of reasoning to employ, once you've gotten past your initial horror at hearing someone talk this way about other people. Generally, I try to spend my time arguing with people with whom I share some common ground and leave the extreme right for another day. But, as this article in The Nation points out, the majority of Americans polled support changing the constitution to end birth right citizenship. This makes me think we haven't been doing a good enough job of pointing out the absurdity and the hatred of the anchor baby myth.


t said...

Is there any clearer evidence that this is not a "law and order" issue, but in fact the cutting edge of racism in the US?

The bigots are fond of saying that they are merely "enforcing the law". But here they are advocating a massive change to the law of the land that is directed explicitly at overturning the citizenship of a specific group of people! This is ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...