The present inquiry is into the question of “anchor babies” — the American citizen children of unlawful residents. These children, to whom we will not refer as “anchor babies” because of the pejorative nature of the term, are so called because they have, under some immigration policies, the effect of an anchor. Born in America, they are automatically citizens even if their parents were not citizens and even if their parents were not present legally in America. As citizens, they have an automatic and inalienable right to remain in the United States, come what may. Further, as citizens, they are entitled to at least some governmental concern for their well-being. As a result of these factors, some immigration policies and proposed policies exempt the parents of these children from deportation, at least temporarily (usually until the children reach the age of majority). In this paper, I argue that the parents of these children should not be given preferential treatment or clemency with respect to deportation.
It is worth pointing out, first and foremost, that these children are treated somewhat unfairly under current law or under any laws that permit the parents of these children to be deported (Hernandez). Although the law does not directly permit discrimination against the children themselves (as such discrimination would be on the basis of their heritage, parentage, or national origin) but it does permit discriminatory effects. The parents of these “anchor babies” can be deported, and this forces the children to either leave the US or remain, deprived of their natural parents, which has an enormous detrimental effect on their rights. These children, furthermore, have been the subject of a new argument that proposes restricting citizenship in some way to exclude them (Huang). This is because of new concerns about the impact of these children (and the incentive to have such children) on America’s population and demographics; the debate is too complicated to detail here but is worth mentioning.

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The argument in favor of desisting — of granting at least temporary amnesty to the parents of American citizens — proceeds along the lines I described above. The government that deports those parents either effectively deports its own citizens or else leaves them in a permanently disadvantaged position, neither of which is desirable (Hernandez). After all, the government has an obligation to act for the benefit of its citizens, and to do so without respect to their parentage or national origin, and policies promoting the deportation of the parents of American citizens do not quite do this.

However, I think there is also a powerful argument against clemency: permitting “anchor babies” to remain creates a perverse incentive for immigrants (Baker). A perverse incentive arises in immigration law where a policy intended to alleviate the human cost of enforcing certain aspects of immigration law instead encourages further violations, exacerbating the impact on America. By way of example, it was alleged that amnesties for illegal immigrants residing in America would create a perverse incentive. Instead of permitting us to focus on deporting the new immigrants coming in, and retain the ones who had already been there, minimizing the disruption to communities and their contributing members, the amnesty encourages a new wave of immigration (immigrants who migrate in expectation of another amnesty).

Whether such an argument is correct or not in the case of amnesties, which are in principle one-time declarations rather than ongoing policies, it seems very likely that these arguments are correct in the case of clemency for the parents of undocumented children. An amnesty in principle sets the stage for harsher immigration policies going forward. The reasoning is this: aggressive deportation would be disastrous and inhumane if we performed it on everyone currently here. But it would be perfectly humane to perform it on immigrants who are not yet here. But clemency of the kind that I describe is an ongoing policy. It does not discourage future immigrants after the policy is changed; to the contrary, it encourages future immigrants.

The last point that I need to address is that countries are under no moral obligation to permit unrestrained immigration (Inman and Tummala-Narra). Depending on who you talk to, you will likely get a different answer as to what restrictions on immigration are morally justifiable. However, it seems almost impossible to find someone who thinks that no limits at all are acceptable. A country like the US may well be obligated to accept many, many more immigrants than it currently does, but few people think that free and unrestrained immigration should be a right that any nation is obligated to respect. And, as a consequence of this, policies that encourage violations of immigration law are undesirable for those countries.

It appears to me that the only sound conclusion here is that the United States should not desist in the deportation of the parents of American citizens. This conclusion is not based on any personal animosity towards these “anchor babies” but rather because whatever our attitudes towards the particular children who have citizenship as a result of being born in the US to unlawful residents, I think we are forced to admit that any policy that encourages more such children to be born is undesirable. A policy granting clemency from deportation to the parents of American citizens is a policy that is ripe for abuse, and ripe for abuse in such a way as to render the laws of this country far less effective. It would not only encourage immigrants to violate immigration laws and give them a means with which to do so, it would also encourage population growth for the explicit purpose of violating immigration law — an undesirable outcome.

  • Baker, Susan Gonzalez. “The‘ Amnesty’ Aftermath: Current Policy Issues Stemming from the Legalization Programs of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.” The International migration review (1997): 5–27. Print.
  • Hernandez, Laura A. “Anchor Babies: Something Less than Equal Under the Equal Protection Clause.” S. Cal. Rev. L. & Soc. Just. 19 (2010): 331. Print.
  • Huang, Priscilla. “Anchor Babies, over-Breeders, and the Population Bomb: The Reemergence of Nativism and Population Control in Anti-Immigration Policies.” Harv. L. & Pol’y Rev. 2 (2008): 385. Print.
  • Inman, Arpana G., and Pratyusha Tummala-Narra. “Immigration and Human Rights.” (2014): n. pag. Web.