CA ‘anchor baby’ debate goes national

Gage Skidmore / flickr.

Republican presidential candidates were drawn deeper into the immigration controversies centered on California, as Donald Trump’s leading opponents sought a way to blunt his apparent advantage among voters with his tough talk on birthright citizenship and deportation.

The numbers game

Clarifying his stance, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski recently took to CNN to criticize the current population of so-called anchor babies.

“If you think of the term ‘anchor baby,’ which is those individuals coming to our country and having their children so their children can be U.S. citizens,” he said. “There’s 400,000 of those taking place on a yearly basis. To put this in perspective, that’s equivalent of the population of Tulsa, Okla.”

Those numbers were immediately disputed, but not entirely discounted. According to Politfact, the figure cited by Lewandowski was “slightly exaggerated,” taking into account dipping rates of illegal immigration in recent years, and the difficulty involved in proving intent among unlawful immigrant mothers giving birth on U.S. soil.

Republished with permission by Cal Watchdog.com

So-called birth tourists, who use travel visas with the secret intent to have a baby delivered in the U.S., contribute to a much smaller fraction of ‘anchor babies,’ Politifact added — “around 8,600, or 0.2 percent of all births, in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

A growing problem

Nevertheless, the anchor baby story has gained steam this summer, reaching a broader audience than GOP primary voters. In a significant new report at Rolling Stone, Benjamin Carlson investigated Rowland Heights, a Los Angeles-area community with a reputation as “the center of Chinese birth tourism in southern California, if not the whole United States.” 

Several years ago, Carlson noted, “the county of Los Angeles opened an investigation into maternity hotels after receiving a deluge of public complaints,” although in the end “no new ordinance targeting maternity hotels was passed in the area. The task force decided that ‘complaints beyond the scope of local zoning powers’ would be referred to state and federal agencies.” According to estimates cited by Carlson, California has become the epicenter for many of the 10,000-60,000 Chinese tourist births the U.S. hosts per year. 

Campaign controversy

With the anchor baby story gaining national traction, several of Trump’s leading competitors for the Republican nomination appeared to size up the issue as a way to toughen up on immigration without undermining their credibility with pro-immigration constituents. Asked by Bill O’Reilly whether “the anchor baby law” is “destructive to the country,” Marco Rubio called the issue a “legitimate” one, as RealClearPolitics recounted. “I of course have read about how that happens in California, wealthy Chinese people are hedging their bets, in case something goes wrong in China they can come here,” he explained. 

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, allowed the term — seen by many Democrats and others as at least implicitly derogatory — to escape his lips in an interview. “Given Bush’s close connections to the Latino community — his wife is from Mexico, he speaks fluent Spanish, he’s written a book on immigration and he lives in the Miami area — it was surprising to hear Bush use the phrase,” CNN suggested. “But he defended his word choice, telling reporters the following day that he didn’t regret it.”

“‘What I said is that it’s commonly referred to that. I didn’t use it as my own language,’ he said. ‘You want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.’”

Later, Bush attempted to clarify that his concern was closer to Rubio’s than Trump’s. “Frankly it’s more Asian people,” he suggested, urging critics to “chill out” about his phrasing, according to NBC News.

Choosing agendas

Conservatives have grappled over whether to frame birthright citizenship primarily as a question of immigrants’ potential upward mobility or the potential downward mobility they often believe government dependency fosters. “Inflation-adjusted figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected that a child born in 2013 would cost his parents $304,480 from birth to his eighteenth birthday,” as National Review’s Ian Tuttle noted. “Given that illegal-alien households are normally low-income households (three out of five illegal aliens and their U.S.-born children live at or near the poverty line), one would expect that a significant portion of that cost will fall on the government.”

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