Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A Pew report estimates 295,000 babies born to unauthorized immigrants in 2013—much lower than the Trump campaign suggests.
Donald Trump and Jeb Bush recently fielded some criticism regarding their use of the term “anchor babies” for children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents. The derogatory term stems from the idea that these U.S.-born children essentially “anchor” their non-citizen parents to America, allowing them to mooch off the government and cut the line to legal citizenship. Essentially, the term’s users believe that “anchor babies” incentivize illegal immigration to the U.S., and therefore pose a social problem.
Here’s Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, quantifying this so-called problem on CNN this August:
So, if you think of the term anchor baby, which is those individuals coming to our country and having children here so that their children can be U.S. citizens, there's 400,000 of those taking place on a yearly basis. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of the population of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the 47th largest city in our country.
Here’s the thing: the number Lewandowski cites is incorrect. The Pew Research Center’s new estimate pegs the number of children with at least one undocumented parent at 295,000 in 2013—much lower than the peak estimate of 370,000 births in 2007 (below, left). Trump’s figure of 400,000, while closer to Pew’s 2007 estimate, is higher than any annual estimate for the last two decades (below, right).
The talk of “anchor babies” is often lumped together with “birth tourism”—a different phenomenon that describes someone who (legally) travels to America specifically to give birth. But in either case, a U.S.-born child is neither a free ticket to government benefits nor a shied against deportation. According to The Huffington Post, more than 70,000 undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. born children were deported in 2013. In a Washington Post article exploring the fact and fiction of being a non-citizen parent of a U.S.-born child, journalist Janell Ross puts it like this:
For illegal immigrant parents, being the parent of a U.S. citizen child almost never forms the core of a successful defense in an immigration court. In short, if the undocumented parent of a U.S.-born child is caught in the United States, he or she legally faces the very same risk of deportation as any other immigrant.
Still, Trump continues to present these U.S. born children as threats to American values, ignoring that his words can have potentially damaging effects on their well-being. Equally concerning is his prescription to curb the number of “anchor babies” by ending birthright citizenship, which despite being dismissed by many legal experts, seems to enjoy considerable public support.