Opinion Columns & Blogs

Joe Mathews: Send California your anchor babies

Anchor me, baby. Because I find it impossible to write with restraint when politicians use babies to prey on prejudice and misinform the public in the service of winning votes.

That’s the story of the Republican presidential contest, as Donald Trump and his opponents make xenophobic nonsense about “anchor babies” a top issue. I won’t rehash here all the debunking of this phony idea that hordes of immigrants are coming here to have babies. Race-baiting bunk is a staple of America’s presidential politics, and nothing I write will change that.

But when it comes to the babies part of anchor babies, I can’t stay silent. I am 100-percent pro-baby. And I’m old enough to remember when politicians were, too, cooing at the diaper set instead of scapegoating them as a peril to the republic.

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets are helping spread ignorance by portraying anchor babies as a “controversy,” or “complex issue” (as the Los Angeles Times called it) when it is no such thing.

When it comes to babies – anchor or any other kind – the only issue we face is that we don’t have enough of them.

If you think you have too many babies in your community, tell their parents to move to California. We sure could use them. Our state faces a historic decline in its number of young children; California had nearly 200,000 fewer children under age 10 in 2010 as it had in 2000. Why? Flat immigration, the high cost of living – and a birth rate that has dropped below the replacement level to maintain a population.

Guess what, America? You have the same problem. The country’s birth rate dropped below replacement in 2007 and hasn’t recovered; the recession produced 2.3 million fewer babies than expected. Which makes the babies of immigrants a solution, not a problem. Serious presidential candidates should offer plans to incentivize the arrival of more babies – and make them taxpaying grown-ups who will support our growing population of retirees.

Yes, I know that Jeb Bush –whose birth anchored him in presidential politics – argues that the real “anchor baby” problem involves Asian families who come here to have a U.S. citizen baby and return back to their home countries. The media have labeled this a problem in California regions like the San Gabriel Valley, where I live. Isn’t so-called birth tourism a trivialization of citizenship or an incursion into our communities, as Bush suggests?

Oh, please.

Legal status and citizenship have always required money here; malls all over this country were financed through a popular investor visa program. And what American in her right mind would be against tourism? In a Rolling Stone story, a Chinese couple who comes to L.A. to give birth sees a Laker game and shops in our outlets. Our economy needs as much of this sort of thing as possible.

The only problems with Chinese birth tourists are that there aren’t enough of them (estimates are in the thousands) and that they don’t stay and make their lives here. For wealthy foreigners, U.S. citizenship is a form of insurance against instability back home,, and many U.S.-born Chinese babies won’t retain their insurance past age 18, since China doesn’t permit dual citizenship. Here’s hoping that, at that age, many of those babies will choose to remain Americans and become productive citizens whose taxes pay my Social Security.

To be fair, presidential candidates aren’t the only ones unnecessarily raising alarms about babies. Federal law enforcement challenges pregnant mothers flying into the country about their intentions, even though birth tourism is legal. The feds even raided maternity hotels in Southern California as part of an investigation into the finances of birth tourism businesses. Given the national baby shortage, perhaps the feds should stick to their usual pursuits, like prosecuting marijuana activity.

Strip away the rationalizations, and what you have is an unreasoning fear of babies. After all, babies and immigrant parents represent everything this country needs — investment, risk-taking, striving for a better life.

So if you have a problem with these babies, you have a problem with the American dream. Maybe you should consider emigrating.

Love it or leave it, baby.

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.