The explosion of an issue on the national scene often seems to come from nowhere. That is really a misconception; what more accurately defines the process is that the issue bubbles to the surface of our culture and finally reaches what is called a “tipping point.” The definition of “tipping point” is the moment at which an object is displaced from a state of stable equilibrium into a new and different state. That has now occurred with what has become known as “anchor babies,” and the problem lies with the misinformation that has been bantered about.
The common argument against changing how we treat babies born here of “illegal immigrants” goes back to our Constitution. To effectively deal with matters after the American Civil War, including treatment of the newly-freed slaves, an omnibus amendment (the 14th) was adopted in 1868. Some people who argue for retaining the status quo claim that the protection of birthright is the sole matter of that amendment and to change our law would gut that amendment. Section 1 of the amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” It is a very important part of that section, but it is not all of that section and just a portion of the amendment.
I have read that clause over and over again and I don’t see where it says “even if they are here illegally.” Of course, at that time, there weren’t immigration laws like we have today. The entirely reasonable concerns that we now have about border control didn’t exist 150 years ago. Does anyone really believe that the people living in that era deliberately adopted an amendment that would allow people to come here illegally, have babies, and then make the argument that the child was an American citizen? That would be quite doubtful.
The same people who argue that the amendment awards U. S. Citizenship to the children of illegal aliens also lead you to believe that the courts have adjudicated this matter. Actually, they have not. What the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is that children of permanent resident aliens (a classification under the immigration laws comprised of people who are here legally) are deemed to be U.S. Citizens. Our Supreme Court has never stated that the child of an illegal alien is automatically a citizen.
Some very good people argue passionately against changing the law. Linda Chavez, a Republican and someone for whom I have immense respect did so in a recent article published here in Townhall. She made a strong case; it is just that she is wrong. We are not advocating that the amendment be changed. But, historically, Americans have never given benefits to people who do things illegally, and the proposal is merely to clarify the language and intent of the amendment for the benefit of the confused.
There is another reason that people have adopted the impression that the law covers the children of illegal aliens – it is because the issue was rarely asserted. If a person came here illegally a century ago and had a baby, they would give birth with a midwife and then raise the child by their own means. The world has changed. People come here and have babies in hospitals. Even a simple birth can run $10,000. If the baby is a preemie, the bill can be as high as $500,000. Once they leave the hospital, they can be supported by their parents or they can become beneficiaries of the state. In one year alone, Los Angeles County spent over $50 million on welfare benefits for the children of illegal aliens. That does not include other governmental costs, such as expenses borne by the state and federal bureaucracies. That is just one county. We are a uniquely humane and generous country, but very few people who understand the real costs would endorse these expenditures. It has little to do with the fact that they are foreigners or the color of their skin. It has everything to do with them being here illegally, and, while we are a humane country, we are also a country of laws. Illegal aliens, by definition, are not following the process and are not abiding by our laws.
Canada and the United States are the only advanced economies that still grant citizenship to babies born of illegal immigrants. 164 countries have eliminated this benefit. That is not to say we shouldn’t declare these babies to be citizens because other countries don’t. We should eliminate anchor babies because it is the correct public policy for our citizens, and an expression of fairness to all of the people who aspire to become American citizens.