Government & Politics

Anchor Babies: The New 'Republican Dog-Whistle'

The latest dustup over immigration.

Michael Swartz · Aug. 28, 2015

America is still a welcoming country for immigrants, but the sentiment for pulling up the welcome mat is gaining steam. Failure to secure our borders, lax enforcement of immigration laws by a federal government that therefore tacitly encourages border crossing and overstay of visas, the perception that illegal aliens are sponging off the welfare system, and immigrants’ growing lack of assimilation has angered millions of Americans.

Enter Donald Trump, who has made immigration a key part of his platform. His latest vow is to get illegal immigrants “out of there day one … out so fast your head will spin.” With his corresponding surge in the political polls, the national conversation on the topic has shifted focus to the phrase “anchor babies.” It’s the term describing the effect of birthright citizenship, which itself is based on a faulty interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment when applied to children born to those here illegally.

The number of those who have come to the United States to give birth is increasing. While the Pew Hispanic Center says four out of five children of illegal aliens were born in this country, it’s now estimated that one out of 10 American births overall would fall under the description “anchor babies.” Most are the offspring of illegal immigrants who understand current deportation policy gives them a “get out of jail free” card once the child is born — along with a claim to our generous public treasury. But some anchor babies are born to “birth tourists” who arrive weeks before birth and do so specifically in order to have an American passport holder in the family to make securing their own visas easier.

It’s no secret that the Republican Party has factions on both sides of the immigration debate. Many of the other 16 presidential hopefuls align more or less with the hardline stance Trump has taken, yet it was immigration moderate Jeb Bush who became a lightning rod for Democrat criticism for using the term “anchor baby.”

In typical Jeb fashion, he tried to walk it back, saying, “What I’m talking about is the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts — frankly, it’s more related to Asian people — coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of that noble concept which is birthright citizenship.”

Needless to say, that muddled attempt at clarity didn’t work, and Democrats stuck to their marching orders.

“The ‘anchor baby’ narrative is politics at its worst,” wailed Rep. Linda Sanchez, chair of the all-Democrat Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in a Washington Post op-ed. It serves “mostly as a Republican dog-whistle,” she added, “tapping into an implicit racial sentiment that suggests children of color are less than fully American or they’re just a vehicle for gaming the system.”

Bush had no support from Asians, either. Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said, “All that is accomplished through talk of anchor-babies — be they from Latin America, Asia, Europe, or Africa — is to use xenophobic fears to further isolate immigrants. It’s time for our country to return to a substantive discussion on immigration.”

But shouldn’t a “substantive discussion” on immigration include more than identity politics? Birthright citizenship is a legitimate topic for consideration, yet Democrats never fail to blow their own dog whistle by crying “RACIST!” at anyone who broaches the subject. Rule of Law is essential to a free country, but Democrats (and too many Republicans) are more interested in craven pandering.

Like him or not, one can’t deny Donald Trump’s impact on the 2016 campaign, which is largely the result of his willingness to raise issues that establishment Republicans would rather sweep under the rug. At least some Americans are listening now.

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