As someone who was born in the United States to immigrant parents, I find the phrase “anchor babies” — used by Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and other Republican candidates to describe American-born children of immigrants — incredibly offensive. And the word that keeps coming to mind is the Spanish term, sinvergüenza, which refers to someone utterly without embarrassment or shame. And right now, to many Latinos, the term is synonymous with another word: Republican.
It’s shameful how the GOP field has perpetuated the ugly myth of a swarm of Mexican women crossing the border to have their children in this country and manipulate the immigration system — an absurd characterization that’s not supported by the facts. The reality is that American-born babies, who are U.S. citizens, cannot petition for their parents to gain legal immigration status until they are 21 years old. Not exactly the shortcut to citizenship Republicans claim it is.
The “anchor baby” narrative is politics at its worst — serving mostly as a Republican dog-whistle, tapping into an implicit racial sentiment that suggests children of color are less than fully American or they’re just a vehicle for gaming the system. It accomplishes nothing other than stoking the unwarranted fear that too many Americans continue to hold about our country’s changing demographics.
And if Republicans think the Latino community has missed the meaning of their coded language, they should think again.
Latinos and immigrants have been through this before. In 1993, then-congressman, now Ohio governor and GOP presidential contender John Kasich co-sponsored a bill to end birthright citizenship, although he’s now changed his tune. During President Obama’s tenure, Republican attacks on immigrants have become uglier, as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) became one of his party’s leading voices in the House on immigration policy and led the charge against immigrants and Latinos. In the Senate, on the issue of birthright citizenship, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), also a presidential candidate, once said immigrant mothers “drop and leave” their children in the United States. And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), yet another 2016 candidate, introduced a resolution in 2011 to amend the Constitution and end birthright citizenship.
This summer, Republican presidential candidates have reignited a stale and tired attack on America’s immigrant community and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. It unequivocally states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” But instead of focusing their efforts on comprehensive immigration reform — like the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in the last Congress, but that House members never got a chance to vote on — Republican candidates have chosen to question the citizenship of some American children. Attacking any child is disgraceful, and it exposes their true feelings about immigrants in the United States.
This month another GOP hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, not just once, but twice, called for the reexamination of birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment. In the span of a week on the presidential campaign trail, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has offered three different answers when asked about birthright citizenship. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who was born in Canada and whose father immigrated to the United States, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) — a direct beneficiary of the 14th Amendment — have expressed their opposition to it.
Then there’s Bush — who says he wants better outreach to the Latino electorate.
Responding to questions about birthright citizenship on a conservative talk-radio show Wednesday, he said, “That’s [the] legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.” The next day, instead of rolling back his unconscionable remark, Bush reaffirmed his use of the anti-immigrant slur to reporters who asked him if he regretted using the “anchor babies” phrase, to which he responded, “I don’t regret it … no, do you have a better term?” When asked if that kind of terminology was too bombastic, he replied “No it isn’t. Give me another lang … give me another word.” Monday, his response wasn’t any better.
Of course, there are plenty of better terms. He could call them “babies.” He could call them newborns, infants, little miracles, gifts from God and the future of this great nation. Or he could simply call them what they are: American citizens. Period.
There are countless ways to reference these children that don’t disparage or marginalize them. But after all of the ugly politics we’ve seen, the term that best fits Bush, Trump and the Republican presidential candidates is sinvergüenzas. Shameless.