Donald Trump said it; Jeb Bush said it, too.
Frankly, a whole range of people have used the term "anchor baby" this week in public discussions about Trump's immigration-related policy ideas -- ideas that include an end to the nearly 150-year-old practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
It's the former, known as "birthright citizenship," which is delineated in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. And as all sorts of public figures have discussed the future of the 14th Amendment this week, the more colloquial -- many say pejorative -- term "anchor baby" has come up over and over again.
But the anchor baby, while potent politically, is a largely mythical idea.
Here's the basic concept: People, namely women, come to the United States illegally and give birth to children, generally for the specific purpose of bolstering legal attempts of the child's parents remain in the United States or even become citizens themselves.
Looser definitions suggest "anchor babies" can simply be intended to help illegal-immigrant parents access taxpayer-financed public education and/or social services through their citizen children -- another political hot button, to be sure. (Even here, the law limits those benefits to the children themselves.)
But usually the debate has been about the residency of the parents, who after all are supposed to be using the child as their "anchor."
This is the definition that has little legal underpinning. For illegal immigrant parents, being the parent of a U.S. citizen child almost never forms the core of a successful defense in an immigration court. In short, if the undocumented parent of a U.S.-born child is caught in the United States, he or she legally faces the very same risk of deportation as any other immigrant.
The only thing that a so-called anchor baby can do to assist either of their undocumented parents involves such a long game that it's not a practical immigration strategy, said Greg Chen, an immigration law expert and director of The American Immigration Lawyers Association, a trade group that also advocates for immigrant-friendly reforms. That long game is this: If and when a U.S. citizen reaches the age of 21, he or she can then apply for a parent to obtain a visa and green card and eventually enter the United States legally.
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