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Anchor baby

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Anchor baby is a term (regarded by some as a pejorative[1][2]) used to refer to a child born to non-citizen parents in a country that has birthright citizenship which will therefore help the parents and other family members gain legal residency.[3] In the U.S., the term is generally used as a derogatory reference to the supposed role of the child, who automatically qualifies as an American citizen under jus soli and the rights guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[4][5][6] The term is also often used in the context of the debate over illegal immigration to the United States.[7] A similar term, "passport baby", has been used in Canada for children born through so-called "maternity" or "birth tourism".[8][9]

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.[7][10][11][12][13] In 2002 in the Irish High Court, Bill Shipsey used the term to refer to an Irish-born child whose family were his clients; in the 2003 Supreme Court judgment upholding the parents' deportation, Adrian Hardiman commented on the novelty of both the term and concomitant argument.[14] (In Ireland jus soli citizenship was abolished in 2004.)

"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.[4][7][13][15] The term is generally considered pejorative.[16] Analysis of news usage, internet links, and search engine rankings indicate that Fox News and Newsmax were pivotal in popularizing the term in the mid and late 2000s.[17] 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.[15][18] 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 immigration opponents, such as the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.[19]

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."[20]

In 2019, The Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton called the two children of the Biloela family "Anchor babies".[21][22]

Maternity tourism industry[edit]

As of 2015, Los Angeles is considered the center of the maternity tourism industry, which caters mostly to wealthy Asian women;[23] authorities in the city there closed 14 maternity tourism "hotels" in 2013.[24] The industry is difficult to close down since it is not illegal for a pregnant woman to travel to the U.S.[24]

On March 3, 2015 federal agents in Los Angeles conducted a series of raids on three "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.[24][25]

Ireland's abolition of unconditional birthright citizenship[edit]

In 2005, Ireland amended its constitution to become the last country in Europe to abolish unconditional jus soli citizenship, as a direct result of concerns over birth tourism. A headline case was Chen v Home Secretary, whereby a Chinese temporary migrant living in mainland United Kingdom travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to give birth to her daughter for the purpose of obtaining Irish citizenship for her daughter (Ireland's jus soli law extends to all parts of the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK). The daughter's Irish citizenship was then used by her parents to obtain permanent residence in the UK as the parents of a dependent EU citizen.[26]

Immigration status (USA)[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 and of the State wherein they reside." The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898),[a] that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizenship for nearly all individuals born in the United States, provided that their parents are foreign citizens, have permanent domicile status in the United States, and are engaging in business in the United States except performing in a diplomatic or official capacity of a foreign power.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33]

Most constitutional scholars agree that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides birthright citizenship even to those born in the United States to illegal immigrants.[27][34][35][36][37] Edward Erler, writing for the Claremont Institute in 2007, said that since the Wong Kim Ark case dealt with someone whose parents were in the United States legally, it provides no valid basis under the 14th Amendment for the practice of granting citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. He goes on to argue that if governmental permission for parental entry is a necessary requirement for bestowal of birthright citizenship, then children of undocumented immigrants must surely be excluded from citizenship.[38]

However, in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982),[b] a case involving educational entitlements for children in the United States unlawfully, Justice Brennan, writing for a five-to-four majority, held that such persons were subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and thus protected by its laws. In a footnote, he observed, "no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment 'jurisdiction' can be drawn between resident immigrants whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident immigrants whose entry was unlawful."[27][31][39] In 2006 judge James Chiun-Yue Ho, who President Donald Trump would later appoint to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, wrote in a law review article that with the Plyler decision "any doubt was put to rest" whether the 1898 Wong Kim Ark decision applied to illegal aliens because "all nine justices agreed that the Equal Protection Clause protects legal and illegal aliens alike. And all nine reached that conclusion precisely because illegal aliens are 'subject to the jurisdiction' of the U.S., no less than legal aliens and U.S. citizens."[31][37]

Statistics show that a significant, and rising, number of undocumented immigrants are having children in the United States, but there is mixed evidence that acquiring citizenship for the parents is their goal.[29] According to PolitiFact, 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 food vouchers through the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and enroll the children in Medicaid.[29]

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."[29] Approximately 88,000 legal-resident parents of US citizen children were deported in the 2000s, most for minor criminal convictions.[40]


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 illegal 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.[29] 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."[29]

There has been a growing trend, especially amongst Asian and African visitors from Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Nigeria to the United States,[41][42] 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.[43][44] 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.[45] In some cases, the birth of a Canadian[46] or American[47] child to mainland Chinese parents is a means to circumvent the one-child policy in China;[48] Hong Kong[49] and the Northern Mariana Islands[50] 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 and as of January 24, 2020 it became U.S. consular policy to deny B visa applications from applicants whom the consular officer has reason to believe are traveling for the primary purpose of giving birth in the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship for their child.[51]


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.[52] 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.[53]

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.[54]

On April 15, 2014, during a televised immigration debate with San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro, then Texas State Senator 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.[55][56]

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 saying, "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?"[57]

In Australia in 2019, then-Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton used "anchor babies" to label the two Australian-born children of the Murugappan asylum seeker family.[58][59] This comment was criticised by University of Sydney law professor Dr. Vogl, who pointed out that unlike the United States, Australia does not have birthright citizenship, so the term "anchor baby" is not relevant to Australian law. Opposition politician Kristina Keneally, herself born in the United States, labelled the comment as an attempt to import American debates that were not relevant to Australia.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chavez, Leo (2013-04-17). The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Second Edition. Stanford University Press. pp. 203–. ISBN 9780804786188. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  2. ^ Gallagher, Charles A.; Lippard, Cameron D. (2014-06-24). Race and Racism in the United States: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. ABC-CLIO. pp. 50–. ISBN 9781440803468. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  3. ^ "Anchor Baby". Oxford Dictionary. 1 November 2009. Archived from the original on July 5, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Barrett, Grant (December 24, 2006). "Buzzwords: Glossary". The 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.
  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. ^ "Family-based Immigrant Visas". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 2015-09-07. Retrieved August 16, 2015. U.S. citizens must be age 21 or older to file petitions for siblings or parents.
  7. ^ a b c "anchor baby". Double Tongued Dictionary. 27 November 2006. 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.
  8. ^ "Tory crackdown on 'birth tourists' will eliminate Canadian passport babies". National Post. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
  9. ^ Yelaja, Prithi (2012-03-05). "'Birth tourism' may change citizenship rules". CBC News. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
  10. ^ "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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Ignatow, Gabe; Williams, Alexander (17 October 2011), "New Media and the 'Anchor Baby' Boom", Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17: 60–76, doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2011.01557.x
  13. ^ a b "2006 Word of the Year Nominations" (PDF). americandialect.org. American Dialect Society. December 24, 2006. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  14. ^ Hardiman, Adrian. "[2003] IESC 3 : Lobe & ors -v- Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform; Osayande & anor -v- Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform & ors". Judgments & Determinations. Courts Service of Ireland. pp. §§10, 22–23, 68–70, 119. Retrieved 12 November 2018.; McGuinness, Catherine. "Lobe & ors -v- Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform; Osayande & anor -v- Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform & ors". Judgments & Determinations. Courts Service of Ireland. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  15. ^ a b Julia Preston (December 8, 2011). "Anchor Baby: A Term Redefined as a Slur". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  16. ^ "anchor baby: definition of anchor baby in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)". www.oxforddictionaries.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2014. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  17. ^ Ignatow, Gabe; Williams, Alexander T. (October 2011). "New Media and the 'Anchor Baby' Boom". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 17 (1): 60–76. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2011.01557.x. We argue that the main source of the anchor baby boom of, approximately, 2007‐10 is the segmented news site newsmax.com. In tandem with foxnews.com, in the mid‐2000s
  18. ^ Alan Gomez (December 5, 2011). "Dictionary's definition of 'anchor baby' draws fire". USA Today. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  19. ^ North, David (16 January 2011). "Just How Does an Anchor Baby Anchor the Illegal Alien Parent?". Center for Immigration Studies. Retrieved 27 November 2016. We should adjust our policies – and let the world know we have done so – to minimize the benefits illegal alien parents get for having anchor babies in the U.S. Exactly how the law should be changed is another question, to be addressed later, but one thing is immediately clear: there ought to be a firm administrative policy of denying entrance to very pregnant tourists and border crossers – and there is no such policy at the moment.
  20. ^ "Drafter of Utah Compact calls document 'gold standard' for fixing nation's immigration problems". Deseret News. December 4, 2012.
  21. ^ "Peter Dutton says Biloela Tamil children are 'anchor babies' used to help case | Australian immigration and asylum". The Guardian. 12 September 2019.
  22. ^ "Tamil family children labelled 'anchor babies' by Peter Dutton". 12 September 2019.
  23. ^ "Reference at www.kulr8.com".[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ a b c Jordan, Miriam (3 March 2015). "Federal Agents Raid Alleged 'Maternity Tourism' Businesses Catering to Chinese". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  25. ^ Kim, Victoria (3 March 2015). "Alleged Chinese 'maternity tourism' operations raided in California". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  26. ^ "EUR-Lex - 62002CJ0200 - EN - EUR-Lex". eur-lex.europa.eu. Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  27. ^ a b c Farley, Robert (November 13, 2015). "Trump Challenges Birthright Citizenship". FactCheck.org. The Annenberg Public Policy Center. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  28. ^ Lacey, Marc (5 January 2011). "Birthright Citizenship Looms as Next Immigration Battle". The 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.'
  29. ^ a b c d e f "Fact-checking the claims about 'anchor babies' and whether illegal immigrants 'drop and leave'". PolitiFact.com. August 6, 2010. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  30. ^ Louis Jacobson (August 6, 2010). "Do many illegal immigrants deliver 'anchor babies'?". PolitiFact.com. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  31. ^ a b c Ho, James Chiun-Yue (2006). "Defining "American": Birthright Citizenship and the Original Understanding of the 14th Amendment" (PDF). The Green Bag. 9 (4): 376. ISSN 1095-5216. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 30, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
  32. ^ Odo, Franklin (2002). The Columbia Documentary History of the Asian American Experience. Columbia University Press. pp. 112–114. ISBN 978-0231110303. Wong Kim Ark.
  33. ^ Woodworth, Marshall B. (1898). "Who Are Citizens of the United States? Wong Kim Ark Case". American Law Review. 32: 554–561.
  34. ^ Bouvé, Clement Lincoln (1912). "Of Aliens Unlawfully Residing In The United States". A Treatise on the Laws Governing the Exclusion and Expulsion of Aliens in the United States. J. Byrne & co. p. 425. hdl:2027/uiuo.ark:/13960/t15n1mt6n.
  35. ^ Oh, Inae (August 19, 2015). "Donald Trump: The 14th Amendment is Unconstitutional". Mother Jones. Archived from the original on November 23, 2015. Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  36. ^ Carroll, Lauren (August 25, 2015). "Trump: 'Many' scholars say 'anchor babies' aren't covered by Constitution". PolitiFact. Archived from the original on February 3, 2017. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  37. ^ a b Paul, Deanna (October 30, 2018). "Trump wants to end birthright citizenship. A judge he appointed says he can't". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  38. ^ Erler et al., The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration: Principles and Challenges in America, Claremont Institute Series on Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, p. Erler, Edward J.; West, Thomas G.; Marini, John A. (2007). 67. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742558557.. "Even if the logic is that Wong Kim Ark became a citizen by birth with the permission of the United States when it admitted his parents to the country, no such permission has been given to those who enter illegally. If no one can become a citizen without the permission of the United States, then children of illegal aliens must surely be excluded from acquiring citizenship."
  39. ^ Barnes, Robert (October 30, 2018). "Trump again raises much-debated but rarely tested question of birthright citizenship". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  40. ^ Watanabe, Teresa (April 1, 2010). "Report criticizes increased deportation of legal immigrant parents". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  41. ^ "Korean moms want 'born in USA' babies".. Los Angeles Times
  42. ^ "Nigeria: The Growing Fad Called Birth Tourism".. All Africa
  43. ^ "National Public Radio: "Foreigners Visiting 'Birth Hotels' In California Draw Local Ire" by Audie Cornish". NPR.org. January 04, 2013
  44. ^ "ABC News: "Chinese Women Pay to Give Birth at California Maternity Mansion, Secure Citizenship for Babies" by Alyssa Newcomb". ABC News. December 2, 2012
  45. ^ "Los Angeles Times: "In suburbs of L.A., a cottage industry of birth tourism" by Cindy Chang". Los Angeles Times. 3 January 2013. January 03, 2013
  46. ^ "Chinese 'birth tourists' having babies in Canada". cbc.ca. 18 January 2013.
  47. ^ Rock Center with Brian Williams (26 August 2015). "One-child policy: China's wealthy mothers fly to U.S. to have second children". NBC News.
  48. ^ "Birth Tourism: Chinese Flock to the U.S. to Have Babies". Time. November 27, 2013.
  49. ^ "Hong Kong to limit mainland China maternity services". BBC News. April 25, 2012.
  50. ^ Zach Coleman (9 September 2013). "'Birth tourism' in Saipan causing headaches for USA". USA Today.
  51. ^ "Birth Tourism Update". travel.state.gov. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  52. ^ Zorn, Eric (August 17, 2006). "Deportation Standoff Not helping Cause". Chicago Tribune.
  53. ^ "'Anchor Baby' Phrase Has Controversial History". ABC News. July 1, 2010.
  54. ^ Contreras, Raoul Lowery (August 23, 2007). "'Anchor babies' is hate speech". North County Times.
  55. ^ Parker, Kolten (April 16, 2014). "Watch: Julián Castro, Dan Patrick debate". Houston Chronicle.
  56. ^ Tuma, Mary (April 17, 2014). "Watch: In Immigration Debate with Mayor Castro, Patrick Sticks to Politics". San Antonio Current. Archived from the original on 2014-04-19. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  57. ^ "Transcript of November 14, 2014 broadcast". CNN. November 14, 2014.
  58. ^ "Peter Dutton says Biloela Tamil children are 'anchor babies' used to help case". TheGuardian.com. 12 September 2019.
  59. ^ "Peter Dutton labels Tamil family children 'anchor babies'". 12 September 2019.
  60. ^ "Why Peter Dutton's use of the term 'anchor babies' is causing uproar". SBS. 13 September 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2022.


  1. ^ Text of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) is available from: Cornell  CourtListener  Google Scholar  Justia  Library of Congress  OpenJurist 
  2. ^ Text of Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) is available from: Cornell  Google Scholar  Justia  Library of Congress  Oyez (oral argument audio)