The 2016 Republican presidential candidates have baby fever lately, and this time, it's (surprisingly) not about defunding Planned Parenthood. When Donald Trump introduced his new plan this week to repeal the constitutional right to birthright citizenship, many of his fellow GOPers parroted Trump's questionable use of the term "anchor babies." What is an anchor baby, and why are pregnant women once again being leveraged as political pawns? The pejorative is fairly new, but it's already become ingrained in our collective conscious.
Since the immigration debate swelled in the early-to-mid aughts, "anchor baby" has been used to put down children born in America to undocumented immigrants. Under the 14th Amendment and the Citizens Act of 1924, any baby born in the United States is entitled to U.S. citizenship, regardless of whether his or her parents are legal citizens or lawfully admitted immigrants. This has become known as birthright citizenship, and it's automatically granted as soon as the baby is born.
Although it's important to note that the 14th Amendment, drafted after the Civil War, didn't explicitly include babies whose parents were foreigners or illegal immigrants, the Supreme Court decision United States v. Wong Kim Ark and the Citizens Act clarified the policy. Of course, the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment has been questioned by illegal immigration reformers, who believe it's been distorted over the last 90 years.
And the most outspoken of them all, Donald Trump, is all for repealing birthright citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Should we be surprised?) The current GOP front-runner — who threatens to out-poll Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — debuted his new anti-immigration plank Tuesday in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.
After O'Reilly tried to explain the 14th Amendment to the business mogul, Donald Trump said:
Frankly, the whole thing with 'anchor babies' and the concept of 'anchor babies' — I don't think you're right about that.
I don't think they have American citizenship and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree, but many of them agree with me — and you're going to find they do not have American citizenship. We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell.
"I'd much rather find out whether or not 'anchor babies' are actually citizens, because a lot of people don't think they are," Trump added, when O'Reilly asked if he would really seek to pass a new constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship if elected president. However, Trump's definitely not ruling out that new amendment.
Trump later doubled-down on his right to use the disparaging term "anchor babies," despite the fact that it's not only derogatory, but also not completely accurate. Many Americans believe foreign pregnant women travel to the United States to deliver "anchor babies" because it will help their families get on a pathway to citizenship or, at the very least, avoid deportation. But that's not the reality — although babies born in America to undocumented citizens are allowed to stay as citizens, their families can be deported under federal law. There's also no pathway to citizenship for the parents of so-called "anchor babies."
Really, it wasn't until President Obama's executive order on immigration in late 2014 that undocumented parents of legal, U.S. citizens were given a chance to lawfully stay in the United States without fear of deportation. That executive order, however, does not qualify as amnesty, and the president did not grant citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants (something only Congress could do).
But as Trump is espousing fear-mongering myths, so too is Jeb Bush, the presidential candidate the Republican National Committee wishes was their front-runner. On Wednesday, when asked about Trump's position on birthright citizenship, Bush also used the term "anchor babies" — and he doesn't regret it.
"If there’s abuse... then there ought to be greater enforcement. That’s [the] legitimate side of this," Bush told conservative radio show Bill Bennett's Morning in America. "Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country."Bush later defended his use of "anchor babies," despite having condemned the term in the past, because he has no idea what words he can use. "You give me a better term and I’ll use it," he told a reporter during a campaign stop this week.Fortunately, Clinton was able to brainstorm some ideas for him. Maybe Bush will write them down this time.