Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 12.30.10

Confessions of an Anchor Baby
How I voted in November
By Ranfis Villatoro

I’ve gone by several titles or names over the years: brother, son, friend, boyfriend, coworker and student. However this past year there has been a new label applied to me — anchor baby. Yeah, that’s right, anchor baby. Trust me, in case you haven’t heard the term before, it’s really not a term of endearment.

Leaders in the House and Senate have taken aim at singling out a certain demographic in the U.S.: babies. Not just any type of babies, but babies born to immigrant parents. Technically they’re U.S. citizens, but House members like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) would prefer you call us “anchor babies.” According to The American Resistance website: “Babies born to illegal alien mothers within U.S. borders are called anchor babies because under the 1965 Immigration Act, they act as an anchor that pulls the illegal alien mother and eventually a host of other relatives into permanent U.S. residency. (Jackpot babies is another term).”

Well, OK — I’ve always thought I was a “jackpot baby” for my parents for completely different reasons, but after hearing this for the first time, I was kind of upset with the term and how it was being used. 

First, in no way could my parents ever get their citizenship because of me; they had to attain citizenship through a system that is broken. Parents of today’s generation don’t even have a chance: Just to get a green card today the child must be 21 and must meet the income requirement to be able to sponsor a parent. They might have to wait up to 22 years in backlog, according to one study by the National Foundation for American Policy. 

Second, it’s not uncommon to hear stories about parents of “anchor babies” who have been detained through ICE officials and deported, meaning no one is really “anchored.” A New York Times article, “100,000 Parents of Citizens Deported Over Ten Years,” cites a study from the Department of Homeland Security that of the 2.2 million immigrants deported over the decade, 100,000 of those were parents of citizens. 

Finally, I was upset because for the past 20 years our leadership at the federal level repeatedly dropped the ball on fixing our broken immigration system. Now the “solutions” being discussed are how to circumvent the 14th Amendment to deny infants born in the U.S.

So when I first heard the phrase “anchor babies” I was upset. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs. I wanted to point out how immigrants have been the backbone of the economy, that immigrants were not a drag to the economy. In fact, according to a President’s Council of Economic Advisors 2007 study, U.S. natives gain an estimated $37 billion a year from immigrants’ participation in the U.S. economy. They DO pay taxes, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes; even an article in USA Today points out how 2.5 million tax returns from Individual Tax Identification Numbers and nine million mismatched W-2’s were believed to be filed by most of the immigrant community. Yet despite all of our parents’ sacrifices, we “anchor babies” have to be punished?

So this past November I voted. I voted because I recognized that the right was granted, preserved and guaranteed to me by the very sacrifice of blood and tears of Americans in past generations. I voted because it was my birthright, just as it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthright or Richard Nixon’s. I voted because I could not continue allow myself or my family to be scapegoated or belittled. I voted because it was the productive thing to do.

It’s no secret that members of the Republican Party have taken issue with “anchor babies” and have brought up the issue of repealing the 14th Amendment. What’s frustrating as well is that other elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats, have legitimized the politics of scapegoating by remaining silent. 

So this was a bittersweet election, in which I had the power to vote but lacked representation for defending my rights. I can only imagine what went through the minds of other “anchor babies” and perhaps “anchor allies” as we cast our ballots. I like to believe our votes were as clear as the 14th Amendment: We voted for human dignity. 

What was at stake this year will be same next year. Values. Yours and mine. Will we continue to allow politicians to place the blame on infants, or are we going to keep our elected officials accountable to higher standards? Are we going to allow politicians to wedge our communities by demeaning a demographic or are we going to start acting as a community and begin to understand one another? 

Should we allow tactics of hate to reign in our community or compassion and understanding? Will you talk to your senator or your representative about this issue, or will future “anchor babies” have to fend for themselves? 

Ranfis Villatoro is currently an organizer with CAUSA, Oregon’s Immigration Rights Coalition. He is a graduate of the UO, where he received his BA in political science.