Perhaps your family lineage goes all the way back to the Mayflower. Perhaps you are a Native American whose ancestors have lived in the Northwest United States for generations, and generations. Perhaps you were born to Salvadoran undocumented parents in the California. Or perhaps you were born in an American hospital while your mother was in the country from South Korea on a tourist visa. In any of these circumstances, by the 14th Amendment, you are a full citizen of the United States and are entitled to your rights as such, end of story, no questions asked, no naturalization exam or pledge of allegiance required.
The trouble is that, while the status of a child born to American citizens in the United States is taken for granted and considered a natural right by birthplace (as in the first two scenarios mentioned above), that of a child born to non-citizen parents (the second two scenarios) is constantly under attack. These children are often derogatorily categorized as either “anchor babies” or “tourist births.”
“Anchor baby,” is an label given to children born to undocumented immigrants in the U.S., implying that the parents had the baby only to create an easy link to citizenship for themselves. A “tourist birth,” in the same respect, is a baby born to foreign parents who traveled to the U.S. only to give birth, then raised the baby back in their home country with no connection or loyalty to the U.S. This term implies that the parents want only the benefits of citizenship for their child (i.e. lower U.S. college tuition), and none of the responsibilities.
From a nativist perspective, the parents in these situation seem to be maliciously abusing the system for their own selfish needs (or even to plot a terrorist attack on the U.S.); however a more compassionate and regardful look reveals that these families are simply trying to give their children the best future possible.
Families who come from foreign countries to have their children in the U.S. don’t have it easy as it may seem. They sometimes pay thousands of dollars in addition to travel costs to be sure the pregnancy and delivery is as uncomplicated as possible, that the baby will get adequate early infant care, and that their child grows up to have more opportunities than are available in the country they come from.
The anchor baby myth can be dismissed by the fact that very, very few undocumented parents have become citizens only through the citizenship of their child. Such a process requires them to wait until the child is 21 before they can even petition for naturalization. Unfolding the reality behind this myth reveals that immigrants actually have their children in in this country to give the next generation a chance rather than to give themselves an easy path to citizenship.
At as the demographic of this country shifts, it becomes more important to ensure that children born to non-citizen parents be treated and valued equally to their fellow citizens, and that their parents not be viewed right off the back as self-interested aliens, but rather as human beings driven by the desire to give their children a better future they never had.