If Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is to be believed, one of the greatest threats facing this country right now are babies. Terror babies. Oh sure, they may look cute and innocent now but they were birthed in this country with a singular purpose–to automatically become U.S. citizens and, after they’ve grown, return from terror baby training to blow us all up.
I wish I was kidding.
Rep. Gohmert’s claims have been making the rounds, uncontested naturally, on Fox News as part of the right’s move to amend or repeal birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. And Rep. Gohmert is not the only Texas politician making this claim. Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-TX) recently appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s show and argued that pregnant foreign women are having babies in the U.S. with the “nefarious purpose of turning them into little terrorists, who will then come back to the U.S. and do us harm.” Both Rep. Gohmert and Rep. Riddle refuse to back away from these inflamatory claims, even though the FBI has gone on record, repeatedly, and called these allegations absurd.
Why should they when their racism makes such good politics right now for the GOP and when the media, and Democrats, have done such a poor job pushing back against this offensive narrative? The “terror baby” meme reflects the conjoining of the worst of the GOP’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant streaks and simply refuses to back down in the face of fact and reason.
Snark and cynicism aside, let’s take a moment to break down some of these claims, including their origins in the massively offensive “anchor baby” theme.
Birth Tourism is a Fallacy
Since 9/11 travelers from most parts of the world who want to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa have to undergo a rigorous process just to obtain permission to enter the country. That process includes providing evidence of the purpose of the trip, submitting fingerprints and photographs, and undergoing an interview by a visa officer at the US Embassy before any tourist visa is granted. The process for getting a green card is even more stringent. Aside from conjecture, those that push this talking point have offered nothing in the way of evidence to support this claim that pregnant women, particularly pregnant women from the Middle East, are traveling to this country for the sole purpose of birthing.
“Anchor Babies” Will Give Their Undocumented Parents Lawful Immigration Status
Despite the fact that this talking point is very easily dismissed, somewhere along the line it has refused to die. The reality is that no immigration benefit can accrue to the parent of a child born on U.S. soil for at least 21 years, and more typically 31 years. That means that a child must turn 21 before he or she can sponsor anyone for permanent resident. Usually the parent will have to have lived outside the country for at least a 10-year period before becoming a permanent resident because of their unlawful status.
Undocumented Immigrants are Flooding the Border to Birth
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 8 percent of all children born in the United States had one or both parents as unauthorized immigrants. Sounds alarming, right? What the report also shows, and what has not received the same attention as that 8 percent number, is that the pace of unauthorized arrivals accelerated at the end of the 1990s and the early years of the 2000s. Those children that were born here were more likely to be born to parents who had been in this country for at least 5 years and not, like the talking points suggest, “dropped” over the border by their pregnant, undocumented mother.
The attacks on immigrant women and their children are petty and political. The attacks on the 14th Amendment are at this point well beyond political and quite simply pathetic. Conservatives used to embrace the notion of American exceptionalism, enshrined in the 14th Amendment and in our country’s unique approach to birthright citizenship, as a principle that allowed our country to rise above all others and lead as a democratic beacon. At one point that very notion drove Republican efforts to overhaul this country’s immigration laws–an overhaul that is desperately needed but unfortunately cannot happen because the rhetoric has become so infected with grotesque displays of racism that any honest policy debate is, for the time being at least, simply impossible. Until that persistent and pernicious racist narrative can be exorcised from the GOP platform meaningful immigration reform is, I believe, dead. And we are all worse off because of it.
photo courtesy of the photostrand via Flickr