PoliticsSpecial Reports

The Border Project: ‘Anchor baby’ law stirs controversy

Democratic State Rep. Matt Heinz, one of two representatives for Arizona's 26th District, points out the complicated district borders that pieces together the geopolitical landscape of southern Arizona.The Mexican border stretches from the far left side of the map, continuing out of the frame. (Photo by Meredith Bennett Smith)

Sitting in the yellow illumination of her trailer’s porch light, Luz Imelda Ramirez ticks off the opportunities now available to her three daughters, all because of a small piece of paper certifying their birth on American soil. Ramirez, originally from a poor community in Sonora, Mexico, is an illegal immigrant. But her children were born here in Tucson, and therefore are United States citizens. It is a distinction Ramirez does not take lightly.

“Thank god my children are citizens, because they will be able to go to university,” she said. “My oldest has good grades and got a scholarship. That’s why I came here, for my children to have a different life than I had.”

Luz Imelda Ramirez 1 from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

Spread between Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the beginning of Route 86, Ajo Way is a scrubby stretch of fast food restaurants, graying storefronts and trailer parks. As late afternoon faded into evening , several families gathered in Ramirez’s adopted community, sitting on white plastic chairs, eating tortilla chips and rehearsing just what to say if ever questioned by the Tucson police.

To the dozen or so men and women — all currently residing in Arizona illegally — running a red light is not a minor violation — it can lead to the discovery of their unlawful status, the beginning of deportation proceedings and the destruction of families already living in a state of apprehension and instability.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070, one of the most sweeping and stringent anti-illegal immigration statutes in decades, was just the beginning.

SB 1070’s author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, is now drafting a new law, unperturbed by the immediate federal injunction blocking the bill’s most controversial provisions. His proposed legislation would prohibit hospitals from issuing birth certificates to children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents, a right guaranteed them by the 14th Amendment.

The issue has re-popularized the term “anchor baby,” used by some to describe children born to undocumented parents. Originally coined in reference to young Vietnamese who traveled by boat to the U.S. in the early 1980s and ’90s, the term itself has spawned angry debate. Introduced into today’s lexicon of immigration rhetoric by such high-profile conservative personalities as Ron Paul, Lindsey Graham and Bill O’Reilly, it has infuriated many immigrant advocates who say the term is pejorative and dehumanizing.

Semantics aside, the Grand Canyon State, wielding its frustration with the federal government like a flare gun, seems intent on focusing national attention on immigration reform by any means necessary, including the passage of legislation that critics say outwardly defies the constitution of the United States.

“Here in Arizona, the legislature has a long tradition of completely disregarding not only our state constitution … but certainly disregarding the federal constitution,” said State Rep. Matt Heinz. “(Sen. Russell’s proposed legislation) would be just another in a long line of examples of that body completely disregarding the constitutional rights and privileges of our citizens.”

Tuscon State Rep. Matt Heinz from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

Heinz, one of two Democrats who represent Arizona’s 29th district, lives on a narrow, colorful lane  in the heart of his constituency in Pima County, which includes parts of Tucson and Littletown. Elected in 2008, Heinz is also a practicing physician at Tucson Medical Center.

As planes from the nearby Air Force base roared noisily over his courtyard, Heinz explained the conditions that have recently made his state such a fertile environment for radical immigration reform.

“Arizona is a very proud and independent state, with a bit of a libertarian streak” he said. “That is one of the reasons I love the state, and one of the reasons why we sometimes get in a little bit of trouble.”

In recent years, Arizona’s longstanding belief in the importance of state autonomy has coalesced with an acute frustration at the federal government’s perceived lack of effort to fight illegal immigration. SB 1070 represented a boiling over of these emotions, and the citizenship legislation is an indication the problem is far from resolved.

This frustration with the federal government reaches across party lines.

Representative Vic Williams, a Republican from the 26th district in southern Tucson, campaigned in 2008 on his proud support of the Sen. Pearce’s legislation.

“Our federal government has refused to do anything,” Williams said. “Arizona has changed the national discussion in this country. We have struck a nerve.”

Nerve or not, prohibiting the issuance of birth certificates in U.S. hospitals is in direct conflict with the language of the Constitution. Section One of the 14th Amendment states, “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.”

Some proponents of Pearce’s proposed bill seek to challenge the current interpretation of the amendment. However, established case law protects the rights of all children born in America, said Nina Rabin, director of the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona. “I think it’s clear that (such a challenge) would be a losing battle,” Rabin said. “I mean, it’s not a realistic thing.”

Williams did not dispute the wording of the amendment. Instead, he argued that its intent was being abused.

“Now we have hospitals that advertise abroad that you can come here to the U.S. and have your child,” Williams said. “You can plan your vacation around it. … I don’t know if that was the original intent of the 14th Amendment.”

So would such legislation, seemingly in defiance of the federal government, pass in Arizona? Heinz certainly thinks so.

“I’ve heard the governor has already signed off on this,” Heinz said. “And ultimately, if something like this gets through our Senate and House, based on what happened this past Senate, I imagine, unfortunately, it will be signed by the governor.”

Williams refused to officially endorse the legislation. But he did point to strong grassroots support for Pearce’s proposed bill among his constituents. If put to a vote, the bill will have “overwhelming support” back home, he said.

Williams should not count on support from Ramirez, who objects to the proposed law on both legal and logistical grounds.

“Well, it’s very unconstitutional, because the children will be neither from the United States nor from Mexico,” Ramirez said. “It will be a problem for them when they grow up, when they’re going to school. What documents are they going to present? It’s just illogical. It’s not like they’re animals without papers.”

Oblivious to a debate that, if enacted retroactively, would dramatically alter his future, a little boy, no more than 3 years old, threw chunks of gravel at Ramirez’s latticework porch, his mouth stained blue by the melting peanut M&Ms he clutched in his hand. His young mother sat a few feet away, watching as volunteers from the immigrant advocacy group Derechos Hermanos led a role-playing exercise. Although initially the adults chuckled awkwardly as they sat in their “car,” the laughter stopped as the “police officer” began to badger both driver and passengers, demanding picture IDs and proof of legal status. The policeman finally ordered the driver and one of the passengers out of the vehicle and radioed “la migra,” the Border Patrol, to come pick them up. The tension among those observing was palpable.

“Really, the worry in the community is that (parents) are going to be taken away from their kids,” Ramirez said. “That they’ll be sent back to Mexico, and their children will be stuck here in the United States alone.”

Luz Imelda Ramirez 2 from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

Their fears are real.

Teresa Guerrero works for the Tucson Unified School District, in the government programs and community outreach office. Every year she sees countless children pulled out of school or forced to live with friends or relatives after their parents get deported. Sometimes mothers or fathers will live in Mexico during the week, only able to visit their children across the border on weekends, she said.

At her Phoenix law practice, Judy Flanagan works with undocumented parents fighting to stay in the U.S. with their children. But she said the reality is cases like these are “next to impossible to win.”

Parents of so-called “anchor babies” cannot file their own citizenship petitions until after the child’s 21st birthday. If the parents stayed in the U.S. illegally for longer than a year following the birth of the child — and Flanagan claimed many do — they will have to wait an additional 10 years before beginning the application process.

Ultimately, Ramirez said illegal immigrant parents want the same things for their children as parents whose families have lived in this country for generations.

“Every mother wants their children to have a better life than they did,” she said.

In the war that is Arizona’s constant struggle with immigration reform, Sen. Pearce is preparing to open up a new front. But as Ramirez looked with satisfaction at the aftermath of the Derechos Hermanos meeting, it was clear the opposition forces were already gearing up for the fight.

“I used to be afraid to say I don’t have documents,” Ramirez said. “But now I’m no longer afraid. Because a piece of paper doesn’t make you any different than me and that’s what I’ve learned at these groups. Because I’m a human being, I have rights.”

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MaryR says:

“a piece of paper doesn’t make you any different than me and that’s what I’ve learned at these groups. Because I’m a human being, I have rights.” Then go be a human being where you came from! You have no rights in the U.S.; you’re an illegal! In California we have illegals that march with their Mexican flags and DEMAND amnesty. We need to DEMAND that the Govt. do its job and enforce the borders and not allow anchor babies to be citizens. We can’t afford to support them (in Cali I know of an illegal with 4 children that each receive $650/month plus ~$500 in food stamps = $3100/month!) We also need the jobs they’re taking (construction, maid jobs @ $23/hr., restaurants, hotels, etc.) ENOUGH!

Sterco says:


June says:

This is a proposition long past its time. We need to do whatever it takes to stop people coming here just to have children for what they can get. They do NOT want to become Americans in any sense of the word. Washington needs to stop this travesty. We will have a nation of people who will not assimilate. We don’t need these pseudo Americans being able then to bring in all the rest of their families. Mexico, in particular, decided long ago to “take back” this country be simply breaking in, occupying and overwhelming us with each woman having four or five chldren. When they have enough, then we will be the minority and this once free and proud country will be just another hellhole of Hispanics and will become another third world, one they prefer.

Donald says:

So, they’re here only to work huh? No that’s just propaganda by groups like Derechos Humanos and La Raza (NCLR). They are here to milk the over-generous American way of life for all its worth. Free,welfare, education, heathcare etc. AND a completely legal, free ride for their anchor babies. These illegal aliens, especially from Mexico, have no civil or constitutional rights and should be deported NOW! If they cared about their children much why don’t they simply take them back with them to Mexico.

Patty says:

The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of native-born Black Americans, whose rights were being denied as recently-freed slaves. It was written in a manner so as to prevent state governments from ever denying citizenship to blacks born in the United States.

In 1866, Senator Jacob Howard clearly spelled out the intent of the 14th Amendment by stating:
“Every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.”

It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. An act of Congress stating its interpretation of the 14th Amendment, as not to include the offspring of illegal aliens, would fall within Congress’s prerogative.

We the People, throughout this nation must demand that Congress takes immediate steps to end the anchor baby madness, stop allowing illegal aliens and foreign “tourists” to steal US citizenship.

Rick says:

Just great. Almost all these puff pieces claim how out of bounds and ridiculous it is that the “people” are trying to overturn a cherished law shrouded in liberty within the constitution. Load of bull. First of all this law was put in place to protect freed slaves after the civil war, not to grant citizenship to children of migrants in the country illegally. There is also no direct legal decision ever made addressing this issue. All of the decisions made even remotely close to this issue deals with children of “legal immigrants” that happened back during the “dust bowl”.

Insinuating that these children will be like “animals without papers” is also a deceptful spinoff. These children will have no problem at all attaining the citizenship of the country their parents are citizens of, just like would happen to anyone from this country having kids abroad. And if illegals get deported and they leave their kids here, how exactly is that our fault? Ridiculous!!!!

The Supreme court will realize that “subject to the jurisdiction of” means children who are born to those who are subject to our laws when the issue of citizenship is the subject clause. Children of illegals do not qualify as their parents are not subject to our citizenship laws at all as they are not citizens at all or in anyway.

ZOO says:

At the begining of this article the women states “Thank god my children are citizens, because they will be able to go to university.” Here is information from an article dated July 5, 2010:

“…Since December 2006, when Felipe Calderón became president, the government has created 75 institutions of higher education and helped 33 existing ones to enroll more students, Rodolfo Tuirán, under secretary for higher education, announced in May. He said the administration planned to establish 20 more institutions and to increase enrollment opportunities at 44 universities by the time Mr. Calderón’s term ends, in December 2012…”

Mexico may be a sewer, but to suggest that education is non-existant there is a ruse perpetrated by invaders to garner U.S. liberals and every other lame brain to cry “Ahhhhh….it’s for the children.”

Bonnie says:

These damn illegals instead of working come here to have children to sponge off the taxpayers!
Every time I see a Mexican national female she is pushing a stroller
and has a belly out to here!

What a disgraceful nationality Mexicans are! Always on the take.

Anna says:

It is an outrage that foreign nationals come to the USA ILLEGALLY and then have immediate citizenship bestowed on their children. Individuals should obey US law when they come to the USA NOT be rewarded for their lawbreaking. PEOPLE should stand up in MEXICO and FIGHT BACK rather than unlawfully and cowardly and illegally live in the USA. FIX MEXICO!

Carlos Rodriguez says:

Anyone that reads the discussions of the framers of the XIV ammendment will understand that the childreno of “Aliens” were not contemplated as beneficiaries of said ammendment.

Second, it is the height of condescensiion to argue that witholding US citizenship from the children of illegal aliens is a punishment because Mexican or another citizenship passed by “jus-sanguinis” must be seen as inferior to US citizenship. In any event, look it up in the Mexican Constitution where Mexicans are defined as those born in Mexico and the children of Mexicans regardless of place of birth.

Betty says:

These liberals hoop and holler “what about the children????” Well I say what about the AMERICAN children??????? The schools here in AZ are so overflowing with Spanish speaking anchor babies that the American children get thrown to the wayside and cannot get a proper education. It is no wonder that AZ schools rank at like #48 or #46 every year when compared to the other states. The child care assistance program here has literally been frozen up due to it being weighed down by illegals with anchor babies. So if you are a poor working American parent here in AZ you cannot even get help with the $600 a month child care bill because a bunch of illegal system drainers have ruined a good thing. In addition to that, AZ medicaid has also been frozen up because of the same reason. Our government needs to get a clue and get their priorities straight.

maddy says:

I am Romanian and came to US legally on work visa. I have 2 kids born here and that have US citizenship. What would this law mean to them? Would they loose their citizenship? We don’t get any perks from the US government, don’t live on welfare and have medical insurance for which we pay.
I do not understand how a person without papers can get the benefits you guys are describing. I cannot believe the state just hands over money and food to illegals, if so wouldn’t presenting themselves to the authority granting those benefits would be putting them at risk for deportation?
I think this is just blowing smoke in people’s eyes. Even if their kids are Americans, they still need to wait till they are 21 to get their parents in. Who can survive 21 years with the fear of being deported?

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