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Immigration Looney Tunes: The Anchor Babies Myth

– Posted in: Immigration Law, Policy & Politics | Citizenship And Naturalization

For months, the signs were clear.

A revival of an anchor baby attack was on the way.

Most colleagues scoffed at my warnings. They claimed the battle against xenophobic terminology had been won. The era of using mean-spirited terms, like anchor babies, for political purposes had passed.

I was a town crier, a few said, over-reacting to isolated news events.

Sure, just like the building of new detention cells is unrelated to future arrests and deportations.

Alarmist or not, here’s what I saw.

  • California government agents exaggerated claims of Chinese birth tourism and maternity hotels
  • Louisiana passed legislation to deny marriage certificates to undocumented immigrants
  • Texas refused to issue birth certificates to children born in Texas to undocumented parents

Disconnected or not, these incidents have a common denominator: they spew hostility towards immigrants and their children as invaders threatening to overrun our nation’s scarce resources.

Then came the one missing ingredient. A triggering event. A negative event with widespread media potential. The San Francisco shooting of a citizen by an undocumented immigrant with a record of convictions.

Coupled with a lack of public remorse by immigration reform advocates, the incident opened the door to a frontal attack on immigrants, anchor babies, and everyone in between by reform opponents.

Led by GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump, a cast of real-world Looney Tunes characters quickly rushed to the forefront of American political news.

Trump Launches Attack On Birthright Citizenship

The nativist attack of foreigners becoming U.S. citizens is not new. As a San Diego immigration attorney, I’ve long known a combination of cultural superiority and ethnic animosity fueled legislation which denied due process to many immigrants under a fake assertion of judicial efficiency.


It’s Not Just Trump: GOP Has Plotted For Years To End Birthright Citizenship
Tierney Sneed, Talking Points, August 20, 2015

Coming from Donald Trump’s mouth, the current debate over ending birthright citizenship sounds like the latest in a series of outlandish proposals thrown out by the recalcitrant billionaire to stir the support of an anti-immigrant base.

But Trump’s idea to end birthright citizenship didn’t come out of nowhere. For years, legal minds on the far right have been laying out a plan to stop granting citizenship to children born on U.S. soil regardless of their parents’ legal status.

As I noted several years ago in The Anchor Baby Debate: U.S. Citizenship For Immigrant Children, opponents to birthright citizenship claim three possible paths exist to change the 14th Amendment: a constitutional amendment, a congressional statute, or a city ordinance.

None are easy. Whereas much of the media focus has centered on the first two paths, the third option has become an emerging immigration reform opposition strategy. In short, if a City does not recognize the citizenship of children born to undocumented immigrants, this court force an expedited legal showdown.

Whichever approach is taken, the federal courts and ultimately the Supreme Court will have to weigh in on the issue.

The Fear Of Immigrants Becoming U.S. Citizens Has Deep Roots

Moreover, despite being a nation of immigrants, the newest group of immigrants have rarely been provided a welcome mat by those who arrived earlier.

Being a citizenship and naturalization lawyer, I’ve watched several immigrants of yesteryear take a first here in time, first in right attitudes against newcomers.


America Has Freaked Out Over Birthright Citizenship For Centuries
Gabriel J. Chin, Talking Points, August 20, 2015

The controversy over whether children of undocumented migrants should be citizens may be heating up now, but it’s just the latest in a string of similar moments in U.S. history. The citizenship status of every non-white racial group has been challenged for literally centuries.

The original Constitution said nothing about who was a U.S. citizen. It gave Congress the power, exclusive of the states, to grant citizenship by naturalization, but it neither addressed the requirements for naturalization nor described the legal status of those obtaining naturalized citizenship. In 1790, Congress linked race to citizenship by allowing only “free white persons” to naturalize; racial restrictions of one kind or another were in effect continuously until 1952.

Anchor Babies Rhetoric Is Deportation Rhetoric

The shrill sounds of contemporary criticisms have a distinctly distasteful flavor. According to Trump and his xenophobic cohorts, our borders are being overrun by waves of “illegals” and “anchor babies”.

Their views are anti-immigration family unity. Their goals are to deport as many immigrants as possible, even those with U.S. spouses and children.

Their position would be laughable . . . except their venom is real.

Trump’s Mass Deportation Plan Symbolizes American Greatness?
The Hill, Alvaro Huerta, August 20, 2015

Speaking of family-oriented policies, to keep undocumented Latino immigrants together as families, Trump proposes to deport them as family units, including youth protected by President Obama’s executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DREAMers.

Adding insult to injury, Trump, should he become the 45th president of the United States, proposes to strip citizenship from U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

Exactly how American born children would not be considered citizens baffles the conscience. Of course, under this perspective, the Constitution is a mere obstacle to be dismantled on the path to winning votes in the upcoming primaries.


As unrealistic as such an approach may be, Trump’s views are forcing Republican candidates to join the chorus line.

“Is The 14th Amendment Constitutional?” Is Now A Serious Question In The Republican Primary
Jon Green, America Blog, August 2019

By Tuesday evening, however, Trump’s position had changed. We don’t have to worry about deporting American citizens because Trump’s not sure the children of undocumented immigrants are citizens in the first place:

“I don’t think [children of undocumented immigrants] have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — some would disagree. But many of them agree with me — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship.”

Good lawyers?



Donald Trump And Scott Walker Want To Repeal Citizenship. It’s Nearly Impossible.
Philip Bump, The Fix, August 18, 2015

To pass such an amendment, President Trump would need to convince 13 Democratic senators and 44 Democratic representatives to join his cause, to get the two-thirds approval needed on both sides of Capitol Hill. That’s more than a quarter of Democratic senators, for what it’s worth, and a fifth of House Democrats. (It’s a little easier if he convinces the independent senators, shown in yellow. One of them, however, is Bernie Sanders, who seems unlikely to join Team Trump.)


Yet, even Jeb Bush – whose own child might not be classified as a citizen under Trump’s plan and whose family has enough pull to survive a Trump victory – has felt compelled to to join the crusade.

Jeb Wants Greater Enforcement To Prevent Birthright Citizenship Abuse
Caitlin Macneal, Talking Points, August 20, 2015

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on Wednesday said that the U.S. government needs to better prevent abuse of birthright citizenship, but he stopped short of calling for an end to the practice of automatically granting citizenship to people born in the U.S.

“If there’s fraud or if there’s abuse, if people are bringing, pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement,” he said. “That’s the legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”

The Trump Plan, however, carries another dividend for him. It would eliminate many of his opponents.

Four GOP candidate, in other words, would be disqualified from seeking the presidency: Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz.

Ironically, in one form or another, all share Trump’s anchor baby sentiments.


How Many Candidates Have ‘Taken Advantage’ Of Birthright Citizenship , But Oppose It?
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Think Progess, August 2019

Trump is currently the GOP presidential frontrunner, and some of his ideas are gaining traction among other candidates aiming to match his extreme immigration policy.

Had the United States previously taken this harsh stance to immigration policy, some presidential candidates’ own families may have been in trouble:

  • Bobby Jindal: Jindal’s parents moved to the United States in 1971 as legal immigrants after Raj received a scholarship to Louisiana State University. Jindal was born in the United States four months after his parents arrived in the country.
  • Marco Rubio: Rubio’s parents were not permanent legal residents in the U.S. at the time of his birth in 1971. And neither one of his parents became citizens until four years after he was born.
  • Ted Cruz: Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen but his father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1957 and became a citizen in 2005.
thats all folks

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics