Anchor Babies

Birthright in the US ensures that anyone who is born to US citizens outside of the US and anyone who is born in the US is entitled to US citizenship. Citizenship by birthright was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, passed in July 1868. The 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War, and was designed, in part, to ensured that African Americans could enjoy the same political rights and freedoms as others born in the US. The Amendment was controversial in its day, but helped to turn around ingrained racism.

Today, however, there is a new controversy surrounding the 14th Amendment, with some alleging that non-US citizens come to the US to give birth in order to ensure citizenship for their children and to eventually secure citizenship for themselves. The case of undocumented immigrants is especially controversial. Children of undocumented immigrants who are born in the US automatically have citizenship status, and this often creates divided families, in which children have legal status in the US while parents do not. Some legislators have even suggested dispensing with citizenship by birthright to ensure that this problem does not continue.


The problem is variously known as “birth tourism” or “anchor babies.” Anchor babies is a term used to describe parents who choose to give birth in the US in order to remain in the US. Birth tourism refers to the practice of giving birth in the US and returning to a country of origin after claiming US citizenship status for the infant. In this instance, parents may return their children to the US at some point. Under current laws, in both cases children born in the US can sponsor their parents for US citizenship once they turn 21 years of age. According to some statistics, about 340 000 babies each year across the country are being born to undocumented parents, so the issue affects a significant number of children.

Some experts point to anchor babies, especially as a concern. Some allege that non-residents fill up 30% of California prisons and add to a drain on public services without paying taxes. In addition, some experts allege that anchor babies are born in public hospitals and attend US schools.  According to the Center for Immigration, about $2 billion each year is granted to undocumented parents of US citizens children in public benefits. Another group, FAIR, estimates that more than $1 billion is spent on education for undocumented immigrants each year.

According to some experts, baby tourism is less of an economic problem, although it may still be seen as an abuse of the 14th amendment. Baby tourists often spend tourism dollars in the US and pay for their own hospital stays. These are often wealthy families from abroad who do not remain in the US and do not place a strain on the economic, health, or educational system. In many cases, parents take part in baby tourism because they eventually hope that their children will attend college in the US.

Other experts, however, note that the 14th Amendment is important in protecting the rights of those born in the US. They also note that children who are born in the US and become US citizens often become valuable members of society. For example, anchor babies may remain in the US and eventually go to school, contributing to the economy. Baby tourists, also may return for a higher education and they stay in the US with advanced skills, contributing to various fields.