anchor baby

[ ang-ker bey-bee ]
/ ˈæŋ kər ˌbeɪ bi /

noun Disparaging and Offensive.

a term used to refer to a baby born to an undocumented mother in a country where the baby becomes a citizen at birth, especially when the birth is planned to facilitate eventual legal residency for the family.

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Origin of anchor baby

First recorded in 1995–2000; from the parents' intent to "anchor" themselves and not be deported
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does anchor baby mean?

An anchor baby is an offensive slang term for a child intentionally born in the United States from a foreign mother so the child receives U.S. citizenship, and so the family can get residency.

Where does anchor baby come from?

The term anchor baby was first recorded in the 1990s. Slightly older is the related term anchor child, used to describe adolescents fleeing conflict or economic hardship in countries such as Vietnam or China. The idea was that these children would serve as a metaphorical anchor in the U.S. for a family that would one day emigrate to the states when the anchor child had earned enough money to sponsor them.

The term anchor baby (for a foreign baby born in the US) spread in the 2000s during debates in Congress regarding immigration reform. Due to the U.S. birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, any baby born on U.S. soil (either a state or territory) is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. The idea behind an anchor baby, then, is that if a parent has a child who is a U.S. citizen, it will be harder for that parent to be deported.

Anchor baby came to prominence during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, when Republican candidate Jeb Bush got in hot water over saying that the issue of anchor babies is “more related to Asian people.” Many expressed concern over Bush’s remarks, including Christine Chen, then executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, who worried that the comments might disparage the entire Asian-American population as being anchor babies.

While there aren’t exact numbers regarding the number of babies born in the U.S. to foreign parents, there is evidence that it’s happening to some degree. Los Angeles has become the home of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry known as “maternity tourism” or “birth tourism” among some Chinese, Russian, and Nigerian families. The practice of traveling to the U.S. to give birth is technically legal, however, and U.S. officials have been cracking down on it in indirect ways, such as going after such “birth tourism” companies for things such as tax fraud or denying visas.

How is anchor baby used in real life?

Especially because the term anchor baby is used to target and disparage specific ethnicities, such as East Asians, the term is considered demeaning and xenophobic

The term often appears in the context of debates about immigration and immigration policy in the U.S.

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.