Dropping the anchor on immigration

Posted11/25/2014 5:01 AM

The politically correct should spend less time telling people what to think and more time forcing themselves to think.

Case in point: Immigration reform proponents and other immigrant advocates despise the term "anchor babies" -- and with good reason. They hate it when politicians or the media use the phrase, and they will picket, protest or pester anyone who does.


Recently, the word police unleashed their fury on Chris Cuomo after the host of CNN's "New Day" used the phrase three times in one segment. Before the show was over, Cuomo apologized and called the term "ugly and offensive."

Yet some of these same people who are so offended by the phrase are now expressing enthusiastic support for an executive action by President Obama that -- while reasonable, defensible, beneficial and overdue -- also validates the whole concept of anchor babies. Maybe the activists haven't thought through this aspect of the discussion, or they're so desperate for the president to finally do something on immigration that they're willing to overlook the fact that they're empowering the other side. Either way, a familiar storm is on the horizon.

The phrase "anchor babies" springs from the mean-spirited and ill-conceived crusade on the right against so-called birthright citizenship. The campaign starts with a contradiction. Conservatives love nothing more than to view themselves as defenders of the Constitution. In fact, now that Obama has said that he's taking executive action to give some groups of illegal immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation, many on the right insist that Obama's efforts violate the country's founding document.

But what interests me is that, apparently, conservatives don't believe in taking their love of the Constitution too far. When it's convenient, they'll ignore what the document says.

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What the 14th Amendment says is clear: "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."

This means that children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States are U.S. citizens. Conservatives need to deal with that, but they won't accept it because they realize that people with U.S. citizenship are much harder to abuse, marginalize or pick on. They want the children declared noncitizens, so they can really drop the hammer on them -- either by forcibly removing them from the country or by making life so miserable here that they eventually "self-deport."

Unable to put these kids on the margins, conservatives settle for trying to put them in their place. So they insult them by calling them "anchor babies." It's childish, but so is a lot of what goes on in the immigration debate.

The activists become enraged every time they hear the phrase. They say human beings shouldn't be compared to hunks of metal used to keep boats in place, but they're probably also aware that the term is being used as a weapon by nativists and immigration restrictionists in both parties.


I don't like the term either -- but for different reasons. For years, I've argued that the opponents of birthright citizenship aren't just rude but ridiculous. Who says the United States doesn't deport undocumented parents with U.S.-born children? Where is that written down? Those parents get deported every day in America, and their U.S.-born kids either go back with the parents to the home country or get put into foster care. According to The New York Times and other news outlets, the Obama administration has taken away thousands of these kids from their parents and handed them to over to complete strangers. If there's an "anchor" here, then it's not made of steel. It's made of cotton candy.

All this is about to change, thanks to Obama's executive action. The president is offering deferred action to parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, which could result in as many as 4 million to 5 million people getting a temporary reprieve from deportation if they jump though bureaucratic hoops. The president is making the "anchor" real, and, in doing so, undercutting those who defend birthright citizenship.

Those on the right who like to talk about "anchor babies" have been profoundly wrong. Now, Obama has proved them right. If conservatives are looking for a silver lining to the president's executive action, this will have to do.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

© 2014, The Washington Post Writers Group

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