Anchor baby

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For the 2010 film, see Anchor Baby (film).

"Anchor baby" is a pejorative term for a child born in the United States to non-citizen parents; the child, an American citizen by jus soli, supposedly could later facilitate immigration for relatives who would not otherwise qualify for permanent residence.[1][2][3][4] The term is generally used as a derogatory reference to the supposed role of the child, who automatically qualifies as an American citizen and can later act as a sponsor for other family members.[2][5]

The term is often used in the context of the debate over illegal immigration to the United States to refer to children of illegal immigrants, but may be used for the child of any immigrant.[1] A similar term, "passport baby", has been used in Canada for children born through so-called "maternity" or "birth tourism".[6][7]

History and usage[edit]

A related term, "anchor child", referring in this case to "very young immigrants who will later sponsor immigration for family members who are still abroad", was used in reference to Vietnamese boat people from about 1987.[1][8][9][10][11] "Anchor baby" appeared in print in 1996, but remained relatively obscure until 2006, when it found new prominence amid the increased focus on the immigration debate in the United States.[1][2][11][12] Lexicographer Grant Barrett nominated the term for the American Dialect Society's 2006 Word of the Year.[11]

It is generally considered pejorative. In 2011 the American Heritage Dictionary added an entry for the term in the dictionary's new edition, which did not indicate that the term was disparaging. Following a critical blog piece by Mary Giovagnoli, the director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration research group in Washington, the dictionary updated its online definition to indicate that the term is "offensive", similar to its entries on ethnic slurs.[12][13] As of 2012, the definition reads:

n. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially when the child's birthplace is thought to have been chosen in order to improve the mother's or other relatives' chances of securing eventual citizenship.

The decision to revise the definition led to some criticism from illegal immigration opponents.[14] Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates tighter restrictions on immigration,[15] argues that defining the term as offensive is inaccurate and is done for purposes of political rhetoric; according to Krikorian, "'[An anchor baby] is a child born to an illegal immigrant,'" and the revision of the definition to state that the term is offensive was done to make a political statement.[14] According to Fox News:

Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based organization that seeks to end illegal immigration, said the revised definition panders to a small but vocal group of critics who are "manipulating the political, cultural and now linguistic landscape" of the United States. "Publishing word definitions to fit politically correct molds surrenders the language to drive an agenda," Dane told "This dictionary becomes a textbook for the open borders lobby."[14]

Professor of Law at the University of Florida, Pedro A. Malavet,[16] said that the dictionary's reclassification of the term "anchor baby" to a term that is considered offensive was "right".[17]

According to the Double-Tongued Dictionary, written by American lexicographer Grant Barrett, the term "anchor baby" means "a child born of an immigrant in the United States, said to be a device by which a family can find legal foothold in the US, since those children are automatically allowed to choose United States citizenship." In response to a reader comment, Barrett claimed that the term is used to refer to a child of any immigrant, not just children of illegal immigrants.[18]

In 2012, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, in a meeting designed to promote the 2010 Utah Compact declaration as a model for a federal government approach to immigration, said that "The use of the word 'anchor baby' when we're talking about a child of God is offensive."[19]

Maternity tourism industry[edit]

Los Angeles is considered the center of the maternity tourism industry; authorities in the city there closed 14 maternity tourism "hotels" in 2013.[20] The industry is difficult to close down since it is perfectly legal for a pregnant woman to travel to the U.S.[20]

On March 3, 2015 Federal Agents in Los Angeles conducted a series of raids on 3 "multimillion-dollar birth-tourism businesses" expected to produce the "biggest federal criminal case ever against the booming 'anchor baby' industry", according to the Wall Street Journal.[20][21]

Immigration status[edit]

The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution indicates that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizenship for nearly all individuals born in the country, regardless of their parents' citizenship or immigration status.[22][23][24][25][26][27]

Statistics show that a significant, and rising, number of illegal aliens are having children in the United States, but there is mixed evidence that acquiring citizenship for the parents is their goal.[23] According to PolitFact of the St. Petersburg Times, the immigration benefits of having a child born in the United States are limited. Citizen children cannot sponsor parents for entry into the country until they are 21 years of age, and if the parent had ever been in the country illegally, they would have to show they had left and not returned for at least ten years; however, pregnant and nursing mothers could receive free food vouchers through the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and enroll the children in Medicaid.[23]

Parents of citizen children who have been in the country for ten years or more can also apply for relief from deportation, though only 4,000 persons a year can receive relief status; as such, according to PolitFact, having a child in order to gain citizenship for the parents is "an extremely long-term, and uncertain, process."[23] Approximately 88,000 legal-resident parents of US citizen children were deported in the 2000s, most for minor criminal convictions.[28]


Some critics of illegal immigration claim the United States' "birthright citizenship" is an incentive for illegal immigration, and that immigrants come to the country to give birth specifically so that their child will be an American citizen. The majority of children of illegal immigrants in the United States are citizens, and the number has risen. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, an estimated 73% of children of illegal immigrants were citizens in 2008, up from 63% in 2003. A total of 3.8 million unauthorized immigrants had at least one child who is an American citizen. In investigating a claim by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, PolitiFact found mixed evidence to support the idea that citizenship was the motivating factor.[23] PolitiFact concludes that "[t]he data suggests that the motivator for illegal immigrants is the search for work and a better economic standing over the long term, not quickie citizenship for U.S.-born babies."[23]

There has been a growing trend, especially amongst Chinese visitors to the United States, to make use of "Birth Hotels" to secure US citizenship for their child and leave open the possibility of future immigration by the parents to the United States.[29][30] The U.S. government estimates that there were 7,462 births to foreign residents in 2008[31] while the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that 40,000 births are born to "birth tourists" annually.[31] Pregnant women typically spend around $20,000 to stay in the facilities during their final months of pregnancy and an additional month to recuperate and await their new baby's U.S. passport.[32] In some cases, the birth of a Canadian[33] or American[34] child to mainland Chinese parents is a means to circumvent the one-child policy in China;[35] Hong Kong[36] and the Northern Mariana Islands[37] were also popular destinations before more restrictive local regulation impeded traffic. Some prospective mothers misrepresent their intentions of coming to the United States, a violation of U.S. immigration law; however, it is not illegal for a woman to come to the U.S. to give birth.[38]


On August 17, 2006, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn used the term "anchor baby" in reference to Saul Arellano, in a column critical of his mother, who had been given sanctuary at a Chicago church after evading a deportation order.[39] After receiving two complaints, the next day Eric Zorn stated in his defense in his Chicago Tribune blog that the term had appeared in newspaper stories since 1997, "usually softened by quotations as in my column", and stated that he regretted having used the term in his column and promised not to use it again in the future.

On August 23, 2007, the San Diego, California-area North County Times came under criticism from one of its former columnists, Raoul Lowery Contreras, in a column titled "'Anchor babies' is hate speech", for allowing the term "anchor baby" to be printed in letters and opinion pieces.[40]

On April 15, 2014, during a televised immigration debate between San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro and Texas Senator Dan Patrick, Dan Patrick came under criticism when he used the term "anchor babies" while describing his own view of some of the immigration issues the state of Texas faced.[41][42]

On November 14, 2014, CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo used the term on New Day: "Breaking overnight, President Obama has a plan to overhaul the immigration system on his own -- an executive order on anchor babies entitling millions to stay in the U.S. Republicans say this would be war. Is the word "shutdown" actually being used already?" Chris Cuomo later apologized for the comment, " OK, now, do they? Because let's think through what this issue actually is on the other side of it. This issue is called the "anchor babies." I used that term this morning. I shouldn't have. It's ugly and it's offensive to what it is. What it really goes to is the root of the most destructive part of our current immigration policy, you're splitting up families. They come here, here illegally, they have a baby, and the family gets split up. Maybe the kid stays. We don't have a workable formation. This goes to the heart of the Latino vote because it shows a real lack of sympathy. You have to come up with some kind of fix. So why avoid this one? Don't you have to take it on?"[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "anchor baby". Double Tongued Dictionary. Anchor baby: n. a child born of an immigrant in the United States, said to be a device by which a family can find legal foothold in the US, since those children are automatically allowed to choose American citizenship. Also anchor child, a very young immigrant who will later sponsor citizenship for family members who are still abroad. 
  2. ^ a b c Barrett, Grant (December 24, 2006). "Buzzwords: Glossary". New York Times. anchor baby: a derogatory term for a child born in the United States to an immigrant. Since these children automatically qualify as American citizens, they can later act as a sponsor for other family members. 
  3. ^ "Anchor baby". American Heritage Dictionary. 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ Kathleen R Arnold (2011). Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 15–20. 
  5. ^ Zorn, Eric (August 18, 2006). "Sinking 'Anchor Babies". Chicago Tribune. 'They use it to spark resentment against immigrants,' Rivlin said of his ideological foes. 'They use it to make these children sound non-human.' To me, that's good enough reason to regret having used it and to decide not to use it in the future. 
  6. ^ "Tory crackdown on 'birth tourists' will eliminate Canadian passport babies". National Post. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  7. ^ "'Birth tourism' may change citizenship rules". CBC News. 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  8. ^ "A Profile of a Lost Generation". Los Angeles Times Magazine. December 13, 1987. p. 12. They are “anchor children,” saddled with the extra burden of having to attain a financial foothold in America to sponsor family members who remain in Vietnam. 
  9. ^ Kelly, Frances (June 2, 1991). "Sympathy for the boat people is wearing thin". Toronto Star. p. H2. Known as “anchor” children, aid workers say the youngsters are put on boats by families who hope they’ll be resettled in the United States or Canada and can then apply to have their families join them. 
  10. ^ Ignatow, Gabe; Williams, Alexander (17 October 2011), New Media and the ‘Anchor Baby’ Boom, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 
  11. ^ a b c "2006 Word of the Year Nominations" (PDF). American Dialect Society. December 24, 2006. Retrieved March 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Julia Preston (December 8, 2011). "Anchor Baby: A Term Redefined as a Slur". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  13. ^ Alan Gomez (December 5, 2011). "Dictionary's definition of 'anchor baby' draws fire". USA Today. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c Joshua Rhett Miller (December 9, 2011). "Revised Definition of 'Anchor Baby' Part of Leftist Agenda, Critics Say". Retrieved March 5, 2012. 
  15. ^ Tara Bahrampour (June 10, 2011). "Report: Highly skilled immigrants now outnumber lower-skilled ones in U.S. workforce". Retrieved March 29, 2012. Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates for tighter immigration restrictions, said.... (subscription required)
  16. ^ Professor Pedro A. (2012). Levin College of Law University of Florida. Retrieved September 6, 2012, from link.
  17. ^ "Anchor baby offensive epithet. (2011). Nuestras voces Latinas. Retrieved September 6, 2012, from link.
  18. ^ Barrett, Grant (ed.). "Double Tongued Dictionary". [From comments section][The term anchor baby] is used for *any* immigrant. Those who use this term tend to be opposed to *all* immigration and immigrants.... 
  19. ^ "Drafter of Utah Compact calls document 'gold standard' for fixing nation's immigration problems". Deseret News. December 4, 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c Jordan, Miriam (3 March 2015). "Federal Agents Raid Alleged ‘Maternity Tourism’ Businesses Catering to Chinese". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  21. ^ Kim, Victoria (3 March 2015). "Alleged Chinese 'maternity tourism' operations raided in California". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  22. ^ Lacey, Marc (5 January 2011). "Birthright Citizenship Looms as Next Immigration Battle". New York Times. The next big immigration battle centers on illegal immigrants' offspring, who are granted automatic citizenship like all other babies born on American soil. Arguing for an end to the policy, which is rooted in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, immigration hard-liners describe a wave of migrants like Ms. Vasquez stepping across the border in the advanced stages of pregnancy to have what are dismissively called "anchor babies." 
  23. ^ a b c d e f "Fact-checking the claims about 'anchor babies' and whether illegal immigrants 'drop and leave'". St. Petersburg Times. August 6, 2010. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  24. ^ Louis Jacobson (August 6, 2010). "Do many illegal immigrants deliver 'anchor babies'?". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  25. ^ Ho, James C. (2006). "Defining 'American': Birthright Citizenship and the Original Understanding of the 14th Amendment" (PDF). The Green Bag 9 (4): 366–378. Retrieved March 27, 2012. 
  26. ^ Odo, Franklin (2002). The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Experience. Columbia University Press. pp. 112–114. ISBN 0231110308. 
  27. ^ Woodworth, Marshall B. (1898). "Who Are Citizens of the United States? Wong Kim Ark Case". American Law Review (St. Louis: Review Pub. Company) 32: 554–561. 
  28. ^ Watanabe, Teresa (April 1, 2010). "Report criticizes increased deportation of legal immigrant parents". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  29. ^ National Public Radio: "Foreigners Visiting 'Birth Hotels' In California Draw Local Ire" by AUDIE CORNISH January 04, 2013
  30. ^ ABC News: "Chinese Women Pay to Give Birth at California Maternity Mansion, Secure Citizenship for Babies" by ALYSSA NEWCOMB December 2, 2012
  31. ^ a b The Daily Mail: "'Maternity hotel' for Chinese women to give birth to U.S. citizens is 'found in the back of California motel'" by Katie Davies and Louise Boyle March 13, 2013
  32. ^ Los Angeles Times: "In suburbs of L.A., a cottage industry of birth tourism" by Cindy Chang January 03, 2013
  33. ^
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  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ Keith B. Richburg, For many pregnant Chinese, a U.S. passport for baby remains a powerful lure, The Washington Post, Sunday, July 18, 2010.
  39. ^ Zorn, Eric (August 17, 2006). "Deportation Standoff Not helping Cause". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on unknown.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  40. ^ Contreras, Raoul Lowery (August 23, 2007). "'Anchor babies' is hate speech". North County Times. 
  41. ^ Parker, Kolten (April 16, 2014). "Watch: Julián Castro, Dan Patrick debate". Houston Chronicle. 
  42. ^ Tuma, Mary (April 17, 2014). "Watch: In Immigration Debate with Mayor Castro, Patrick Sticks to Politics". San Antonio Current. 
  43. ^

Further reading[edit]