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'Anchor baby' is a slur against Mexicans: Trump should knock it off

'Anchor baby' is a slur against Mexicans: Trump should knock it off
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for an end to birthright citizenship for children he calls "anchor babies." (Charles Krupa / AP)

The phrase "anchor babies" is offensive.

It is meant to be offensive because it is a slur.

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Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Uttered by Donald TrumpJeb Bush and other Republican White House wannabes, "anchor babies," quite simply, is another way of saying "Mexicans."

The phrase is used to describe a phenomenon that is probably not even real. It refers to babies born to immigrant parents who supposedly use their child's automatic American citizenship to enhance their own legal status.

In strictly Orwellian terms, the phrase describes a second-class kind of citizenship, one totally at odds with the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to any child born in the U.S.

People who use the phrase should be called out, just as ABC News correspondent Tom Llamas did the other day with Trump in New Hampshire. ""You said that you have a big heart, and that you're not mean-spirited," Llamas told Trump at a news conference. "Are you aware that the term 'anchor baby,' that's an offensive term? People find that hurtful."

Trump replied: "You mean it's not politically correct, and yet everybody uses it?"

Actually, "everyone" does not use it.

As sociologists Gabe Ignatow and Alexander T. Williams noted in a paper on the origin of the phrase, "the term 'anchor baby' is used primarily by American political conservatives opposed to illegal immigration" and was popularized by "right wing news blogs and news sites."

"The whole concept is ludicrous on the face of it," said Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, who co-directs the Mexican Migration Project, a comprehensive data base of social and economic information for researchers who study Mexican immigration to the United States.

"We have birthright citizenship. But those citizen kids cannot petition for the entry of their parents until they are 21, and if the parent is here illegally, they are barred from applying until 10 years after they are eligible. So it's not like they were sitting around in Mexico planning to have a baby in the states so 31 years later, they could apply for residency."

Which brings me to the next point: On the off chance that those now-aging Mexican parents had a nefarious, 31-year plan, Trump has called for an end to birthright citizenship.

He does not spell out how he would go about revising the Constitution, striking at the very heart of what it means to be American.

One of the great ironies of U.S. border policy is that the number of immigrants here illegally exploded in the 1990s precisely because we decided to militarize our borders to prevent movement. That was a stipulation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. President Reagan pushed amnesty for some 2.3 million people in exchange for tighter border security and a crackdown on employers who hired undocumented workers.

Mexicans often crossed into the U.S. to work, then went home, and came back, Massey said. But once it became nearly impossible to return to the states, they began staying in the U.S. in great numbers, and their families followed. Massey and his colleagues call this the "caging effect."

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But why all the hysteria now? After all, in the last few years, illegal immigration has not just fallen dramatically, it is at the lowest level since 1973.

"The election of a black president, and the realization that the demography is what it is has really unnerved older white people, and they can't wrap their heads around the changes," Massey said. "The economy has been transformed, and inequality has risen to unprecedented levels, and people like Trump come along and say it's all about illegal immigrants, and with these underlying fears, it's a combustible mixture."

Also, Massey said, there is a generational issue at play.

Baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s were growing up in, as Massey put it, "the whitest America that ever existed."

In the early 20th century, about 15% of the population was foreign born. But by 1970, the percentage of foreign-born Americans had dropped to 4.7. "Baby boomers think that's the 'normal, regular America,'" Massey said, "but that was an aberration." (That figure is about 14% now.)

"Older white people are a dying demographic, literally," Massey said. "They are not the future. No matter what happens with immigration, that's already built into the demographic structure of the country. Once Texas slips from red to blue, the game is over."

In the long-term, embracing the phrase "anchor babies" and promoting the idea of stripping citizenship from children born to those in the country illegally might be a losing political strategy.

"But in the short term," Massey said, "this is where the Republican base is."

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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