By Patricia Lee Sharpe
The rabid Right went into a tizzy over a report released a couple of weeks ago by the Pew Hispanic Center. The anti-immigration claque went so far as to reinvigorate a movement to amend the Constitution. They want to eliminate the “birthright citizenship” clause that resides, not by amendment, but in the very body of the U.S. Constitution. As things now stand, and always have stood, in these United States, anyone born on U.S. territory is automatically an American citizen, even if the proud parents are visa-less.
It seems that Conservatives, usually so eager promote “original intent” as the only allowable approach to interpreting the Constitution, respect the words of the nation’s founders only when their own prejudices are thereby unhindered. Oh, but the founders never envisioned a porous border with Mexico, they say. Indeed! Should we laugh or cry at the inconsistency?
Still, there’s no doubt that some women who are pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, time their entry into the U.S., legally or illegally, to ensure that their children will be birthright Americans. The understandable hope of such parents is that these offspring, aka anchor babies, will ease their own naturalization process. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It never would, the alarmists promise, if the Constitution were amended.
From one absolutely incontrovertible point of view, the law’s the law. No one has the right to break it. So illegals are illegal. Another point of view suggests leniency. American immigration law is an unworkable crazy quilt that in no way covers the U.S. need for labor. The flow of illegal workers results as much from incessant U.S. demand as from largely Latino opportunism, an inevitable consequence of well known economic laws. Finally, there are those who insist that, the law being what it is, people caught up in the deportation process should be treated with compassion, respect and due process.
Let’s leave this debate for a moment, and look at the aspects of the Pew report that terrify the conservatives who fear some fatal dilution of American culture, whatever precisely that is. Here are some excerpts:
Unauthorized immigrants comprise slightly more than 4% of the adult population of the U.S., but because they are relatively young and have high birthrates, their children make up a much larger share of both the newborn population (8%) and the child population (7% of those younger than age 18) in this country....
The new Pew Hispanic analysis finds that nearly four-in-five (79%) of the 5.1 million children (younger than age 18) of unauthorized immigrants were born in this country and therefore are U.S. citizens....Please notice that last sentence. A fertility rate of 2.0 is bare replacement, which means the U.S. is teetering dangerously on the edge of population decline without those immigrant births. Perhaps baby bonuses would help. Perhaps universal day care for working mothers would help. Perhaps subsidizing the cost of a college education would help. Ironically, all such interventions would require government action. How amusing it would be should Conservatives suddenly espouse them to protect the nation from Hispanic babies.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1868, grants an automatic right to citizenship to anyone born in the U.S....
In 2009, immigrants—be they legal or unauthorized—comprised 12.8% of the total population of the United States and 15.7% of the total adult population. However, because of their youthful age structure and higher fertility rates, immigrant adults are more likely than native-born adults to be parents of children younger than 18. As a result, they are the parents of 23% of all children in this country ages 17 and younger....
In addition, immigrant adults tend to have higher rates of fertility than do native-born adults. As of 2008, the total fertility rate among females ages 15 to 44 was 2.0 for the native born and 2.7 for immigrants.
Meanwhile, Russia is shrinking. Europe is shrinking. Japan is shrinking. When the population replacement rate goes into negative numbers, the prognosis for a country’s future is grim: not enough maturing workers to sustain the economy or support a population skewing toward elders. In short, things go out of whack. Too few babies results in too few adults to support and care for a disproportionate number of seniors. When the life cycle contract becomes disfunctional, the results aren’t just financial. The social fabric is torn. Things get ugly domestically.
And, of course, national power declines, which, you’d think, would give the Conservatives pause re this issue. A puny population can’t support a huge military establishment, to say nothing of the R & D required to maintain the budget-breaking, cutting edge equipment a modern army fights with.
Because of the dismal phenomenon known as the Great Recession, the U.S. birth rate has declined these last couple of years, even among Hispanics, according to demographers. Two years don’t make a trend. It’s still possible to say that the U.S., so far, has escaped the worst of the population shrinkage that afflicts most industrialized countries.
But—remember this!—we've escaped only because we have so many young immigrants presenting us with their beautiful babies. So down your tequila, munch your tacos, spoon up your chili and celebrate. These anchor babies that terrify American nativists are really bundles of joy for America. We need them, every one of them.