Counting 'anchor babies' in the U.S.


Demonstrators protesting illegal immigration in California.


Justin Sullivan

A new analysis by the Arizona Republic suggests that the phenomenon of “birth tourism” — non U.S. citizens who come to the U.S. to give birth so that their children will be born Americans—may not be the widespread phenomenon that some U.S. politicians suggest.

Less than 2 percent of babies born last year in the border state of Arizona had non-resident mothers, the story said. Those numbers don’t distinguish between women who were living in other U.S. states and those who came from other countries. 

The most recent national figures, which also include women studying at U.S. universities and international visitors, are even smaller, at about 0.2 percent, even though it notes that the figure has increased in recent years.

The Republican party in the U.S. has been wringing its hands over birth tourism — or “anchor babies,” the more racially-charged term for the phenomenon — for years. 

More recently, the debate has escalated to a question of whether the U.S. should abandon the Constitution’s 14th amendment, which guarantees citizenship for any child born within U.S. borders. If you don’t know the provisions of the 14th amendment, well, it’s kind of a big deal

Given the numbers, it seems like an unnecessary crusade. Here’s the key bit from the Republic story from David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association:

To sponsor a parent to come to the United States, a child has to be 21 years old, living in the U.S. and be earning enough money to meet the requirements for sponsorship, he said. That is a high threshold and is more difficult to meet than it may appear, he said. 

He believes most expectant women who come to the U.S. to have babies come for the superior medical care, not to produce U.S. citizens.

“I might be impressed if hospitals all over the country were crowded with women coming in from all over the world to have babies here,” Leopold said. “I don’t see that. This is a myth. It’s another scare tactic to try to attack the 14th Amendment of the Constitution for no reason at all.”


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