Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Don Riding: Anchor babies – fact vs. fiction

Don Riding
Don Riding

In December 1972, I finished my training at the Border Patrol Academy and began my career as an immigration inspector in El Paso, Texas. One of my duties was to interview new immigrants and issue them a “green card.”

I soon learned that almost every Mexican immigrant applying in El Paso qualified to immigrate because of a child born in the United States. However, these immigrants were not required to wait until the American child was 21 years old. The law before Jan. 1, 1977, provided for unlimited immigration from the Western Hemisphere if the immigrant possessed a skill needed in America, or if the applicant had a child who was a U.S. citizen. Illegal presence was not needed to produce an American baby.

We issued permits for Mexican parents to have their children born in El Paso hospitals as long as the hospital bill was paid in advance. I admitted many pregnant mothers destined to American hospitals to give birth to their anchor babies.

At that time, Mexicans could not immigrate their brothers and sisters, as citizens from the Eastern Hemisphere could, so a few activists lobbied Congress for a change. The Western Hemisphere was put on the same immigration system as the Eastern Hemisphere, but unintended consequences of this law made immigration for Mexicans much more difficult. With the change, Mexicans now had to wait 21 years before benefiting from an anchor baby. Since the change in 1977, very few Mexicans have immigrated because of anchor babies. Ten years after this change, more than 1.2 million Mexicans applied for amnesty because they had been here illegally before 1982. Tens of thousands of these Mexicans had American-citizen children, but these were not anchor babies, because the children did not help the parents immigrate.

In 1996, Congress reacted to illegal immigrants by requiring those who had been in the United States illegally for a year or more to leave the United States for 10 years before immigrating. Therefore, Mexican parents of American-citizen children cannot benefit from anchor babies if they remained here after the child was born. Very few Mexicans have qualified to immigrate from anchor baby children since 1977. It is a popular myth, perpetuated by Donald Trump, that Mexicans immigrate in large numbers because of anchor babies. This is not true. Jeb Bush might be more accurate when he talks of Asian mothers who come here legally, have an American baby, and return home to wait 21 years.

The Center for Immigration Studies claims there are 400,000 children born in America each year to illegal alien parents. There is an inference that this later translates into 800,000 anchor baby parents 21 years later. Immigration statistics show this isn’t remotely close to the truth. In recent years, the annual number of new immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens has been between 100,000 and 120,000. Of this annual total, the overwhelming majority are parents of naturalized citizens, not anchor babies.

I supervised the Fresno immigration office from 1984 through 2011. I often asked how many immigrants qualified because of a citizen child. Almost everyone told me it was very rare to see Mexican parents of anchor babies. Immigration keeps no statistics on anchor babies. The only statistic is for parents of American citizens. I also asked the same question of other immigration offices. The best guess I could come up with is that 15 percent of the category, parents of U.S. citizens, come from anchor babies. Therefore, the average annual immigration of anchor baby parents is less than 20,000. With almost 1 million legal immigrants per year, the number of anchor baby parents is not enough to justify changing the 14th Amendment.

Don Riding was an immigration officer for 39 years and headed the Fresno immigration office for 27 years. He teaches immigration and nationality law at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Academy and set up the amnesty program in Central California. Write to him at driding22@comcast.net.