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"Anchor baby" is a pejorative term for a child born in the United States to immigrant parents, who, as an American citizen, supposedly can later facilitate immigration for relatives. 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. 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 could also be used in a similar sense outside of that context to refer to the child of any immigrant "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."[improper synthesis?]
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. "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. Lexicographer Grant Barrett nominated the term for the American Dialect Society's 2006 Word of the Year.
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. After eighty signers of an online petition by Jennifer Chenoweth-Ruiz and 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. As of 2012[update], 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. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates tighter restrictions on immigration, 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. 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 FoxNews.com. "This dictionary becomes a textbook for the open borders lobby."
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.
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 ruled 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.
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. 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.
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." Approximately 88,000 legal-resident parents of US citizen children were deported in the 2000s, most for minor criminal convictions.
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 a U.S. citizen. It is true that the majority of children of illegal immigrants in the U.S. are citizens, and that 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. 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."
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. 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.