Track 'anchor babies'

By Al Knight, Denver Post, September 11, 2002

The term "anchor baby" is unfamiliar to most Americans, but it nicely describes one of the more troubling aspects of American immigration policy.

Put simply, an anchor baby is the offspring of an illegal immigrant who, under current legal interpretation, becomes a U.S. citizen at birth and, in turn, is the means by which parents and relatives can also obtain citizenship for themselves by using the family reunification features of immigration law.

It's estimated there may be as many as 200,000 anchor babies born each year in the U.S. No single agency keeps track, but there is abundant, if fragmented, evidence that births are not limited to areas near the Mexican border.

In a recent year in Colorado, the state's emergency Medicaid program paid an estimated $30 million in hospital and physician delivery costs for about 6,000 illegal immigrant mothers. And the Nashville Tennessean reported last year that the Metro General Hospital in Davidson County had recorded 511 births during a one-year period, two-thirds of them to illegal immigrants.

Craig Nelsen, director of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, claims, "There is a huge and growing industry in Asia that arranges tourist visas for pregnant woman so they can fly to the United States and give birth to an American."

Although the exact number of such births is unknown, what is known is that, except for a limited exception applying to children of diplomats, every child born on U.S. soil currently earns what is called "birthright citizenship."

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "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."

That same amendment also says, "The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

Congress, of course, has done no such thing, although legislation has been introduced that would deny citizenship to a child whose mother is "neither a citizen or national of the United States nor admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident."

There have been a few recent articles posted on immigration-related websites dealing with this issue, which features a well-researched legal analysis by Howard Sutherland.

Sutherland's article makes the point that although the U.S. Supreme Court has had relatively few decisions dealing with the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, the court's record is mixed. It gives hope both to those who favor a change in policy and those that don't.

FILE attorneys think they've spotted a reason for hope in a case that could lead to a new ruling on the issue. It involves a U.S.-born Saudi Arabian Taliban fighter by the name of Yaser Esam Hamdi.

Hamdi was taken into U.S. custody as an enemy combatant when his Taliban unit surrendered in Afghanistan. When it was discovered that Hamdi was born in Louisiana, he was transferred from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Norfolk, Va. FILE has asked the Justice Department to reclassify Hamdi as a Saudi national and "not an American in any real sense of the word."

FILE believes the case presents an opportunity to address the "custom of granting birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal aliens, temporary workers, and tourists" because that custom is "supported neither by the 14th Amendment nor by legal precedent."

It remains to be seen how the government and the courts will handle Hamdi's citizenship, but whatever the outcome, there is a demonstrated need for more information on the effects of the citizenship clause.

No government agency keeps track of anchor births; hospitals rarely keep accurate information on immigration status, public schools and other agencies are virtually forbidden from tracking immigration status, and so the public has no clue as to the real effects of current policy. Because detailed information is lacking, it is easy enough to those who favor the status quo to simply announce that the effects are completely benign.

But saying it doesn't make it so, does it?

Al Knight is a member of the Denver Post editorial board. His column appears Wednesday and Sunday.