Friday, August 21, 2015

Anchor Babies, Welfare Queens, and Other Gutless Euphemisms

I don't usually write about immigration because it's not my specialty, but I do know a thing or two about language. Earnest People™ are asking what term they should use instead of "anchor babies" because critics (rightly) believe it is a derogatory term, but right-of-center folks want a term to describe children who are used as excuses to stay in the country. 

Here's my suggestion:

"Greatly exaggerated phenomenon I use to express both my disdain for immigrants and signal my resentment of the continued growth of the welfare state despite the two not being closely related"

Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it? Okay, maybe this:

"Undesirable brown child."

"Whoa, Jon. That's going too far!" you may be thinking. But it really isn't.

This continued conversation has context and that context is nativism.  Nativism is and always has been closely tied to racism--even leading to hate crimes--and there's just no getting around that. You can have non-racist reasons to oppose immigration, but "anchor babies" is a loaded term and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

There is little evidence that a large number of unauthorized immigrants are coming to America with the intended purpose of having children to stay in the country legally. Yes, people have children while they're here. And sure, people have children for bad reasons all the time so I'm sure that some people do, in fact, come here with that intention. But there's nothing really to support that this is some sort of widespread scheme to do so and therefore that it warrants massive policy change. How do I know this? The law doesn't make it easy to have a kid get parents legal access to the Land of the Free: (Via WaPo)
In order to apply for such an option, the parent of a so-called anchor baby would need to do all of the following.
  • Wait for his or her child to reach the age of 21.
  • Leave the United States.
  • Return to their home country.
  • Have their child begin the lengthy process of applying for a family reunification immigration request.
  • Clear consular interviews and a U.S. State Department background check. (One or both would very likely provide evidence that said parent, at some point, lived in the United States illegally -- long enough for that "anchor baby" to be conceived or born. And despite widespread belief to the contrary, there is indeed a penalty for that.)
If a person has lived in the United States unlawfully for a period of more than 180 days but less than one year, there is an automatic three-year bar on that person ever reentering the United States -- and that's before any wait time for a visa. So that's a minimum of 21 years for the child to mature, plus the three-year wait. 
And, for the vast majority of these parents, a longer wait also applies. If a person has lived in the United States illegally for a year or more, there is a 10-year ban on that person reentering the United States. So, in that case, there would be the 21-year wait for the child to mature to adulthood, plus the 10-year wait.

Our immigration naturalization system is explicitly set up to not be unskilled brown people from Latin America, anyway. And if you think they're banking on American sympathy to let them stay, the tidal wave of deportations during the bulk of the Obama administration and the unabashed nativism from the GOP frontrunners undermines that naive (and likely nonexistent) assumption on their part.

But back to my point--we've seen this before. The "Welfare Queens" of the 1970s and 1980s was a racially tinged, sexist anti-welfare moniker  that was, to put it mildly, wildly overstated. Yes, some people cheat Welfare. People also cheat Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but you don't see too many politicians demagoguing about those gray haired goodfornothing bandits wreaking havoc on our national debt.


Nah. They were blaming women, particularly black women, as a political foil. "Anchor babies" is of the exact same stripe: women and children of color living off (white) America who earned their wealth the old-fashioned way. (The GI Bill, farm subsidies, and mortgage interest deductions, of course.) But I digress.

If you really want to make "anchor babies" a campaign or policy issue, then do so. But be honest about what you're saying. The problem is a broken system created and driven by the same old nativism responsible for the bulk of our counter-productive immigration laws for over a century. Racial resentment continues to drive politics in this country and the adults in the room should acknowledge that.

1 comment:

@Shawington said...

None of these anti-brown people / anti-immigrationists want to address the drug war or unconstitutional US interventionism for driving people north out of Central America.