Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the father of SB 1070, has a new target in his cross hairs: "anchor babies," the ugly epithet used to label children born of undocumented immigrants. The senator’s newest legislative provocation would allow Arizona "to refuse to accept or issue a birth certificate that recognizes citizenship to those born to illegal aliens, unless one parent is a citizen," as he recently explained to his supporters. Crudely labeled "anchor baby bills" by the media, similar efforts are brewing in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Congress. On July 28, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham became the latest to join the assault on birthright citizenship, calling it a "mistake" and announcing that he may introduce a constitutional amendment to deny automatic citizenship to the children of immigrants who "come here to drop a child." "To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen," he said. "That shouldn’t be the case."
Graham’s rhetoric echoed that of e-mail, widely circulated by Pearce, that explains the logic behind the strategy: "If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do." This statement—which Pearce has publicly defended—comes from a man named Al Garza, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a former top official in the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps and founder of the Patriots Coalition, whose website includes jokes about assassinating President Obama.
Pearce and his ilk are capitalizing on a concept with old nativist roots that is lending new potency to the assault on Latino immigrants. Fueled by bogus conspiratorial depictions of newborns delivered moments after their parents cross the border; "emergency alien deliveries" overrunning US hospitals and endangering American lives; and undocumented mothers having children in order to collect public benefits on taxpayers’ backs, the anti-immigrant right is demonizing babies as the weapon of choice for armies of "illegals."
"It’s invasion by birth canal," the leader of a California anti-immigrant ballot initiative told the Los Angeles Times. The head of an anti-immigrant group in Virginia called for an investigation into "whether or not illegal aliens have a preferred breeding season." According to Texas Republican Representative Ron Paul, "awarding automatic citizenship to children born here minutes after their mothers illegally cross the border" is "a matter of national security."
The "invading army" rhetoric is not accidental. The "citizenship clause," Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment, states clearly that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." There are two exceptions: children of foreign diplomats and the children of invading armies. The latter lends itself perfectly to the kinds of xenophobic sound bites that whip up support for anti-immigrant laws.
Federal legislation aimed at denying citizenship to "anchor babies" dates back to 1995, when California Republican Representative Brian Bilbray invited members of Congress to visit San Diego hospitals and see for themselves "what we see in the parking lot": undocumented mothers waiting "to dilate, just so she can deliver her baby in a US hospital." That year, Bilbray garnered fifty-one co-sponsors for his Citizenship Reform Act, which would have denied "automatic citizenship at birth to children born in the United States to parents who are not citizens or permanent resident aliens." In 2009 Republican Representative Nathan Deal of Georgia scored ninety-two co-sponsors for his nearly identical Birthright Citizenship Act. "People thought it was on the fringe," Bilbray boasted in 2007, recalling his early efforts to outlaw birthright citizenship. "Now it’s mainstream."