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Birthright citizenship: Fewer babies being born to women in U.S. illegally

For all of this summer’s heated campaign-trail rhetoric about immigration and women in the country illegally giving birth in the U.S., new data show that the number of such babies born here is on the decline.

The number of babies born to immigrants in the U.S. illegally is on the decline, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Such births still made up 8% of total U.S. births in 2013, the center found.

The issue has been in the spotlight in recent months, with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and other GOP candidates decrying such children as “anchor babies,” a term considered derogatory, and calling for an end to automatic citizenship for children born to immigrants in the country illegally. They say that the practice encourages illegal immigration.

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According to the Pew report released late Thursday, about 295,000 such babies were born in 2013. That was a decline from a peak of 370,000 in 2007. The downward trend echos the overall drop in illegal immigration in recent years, which has been driven largely by a decrease in the number of immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico.

The population of immigrants illegally in the country dropped about 1 million during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and has remained stable since.

“When the population went down, the births went down,” said D’Vera Cohn, a co-author of the Pew report.

The report found that about 8% of babies born in the U.S. in 2013 were to immigrants in the country illegally, a group that makes up only about 4% of the total U.S. population.

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The high birthrate to immigrants can be explained by the differing demographics of the American-born and the foreign-born populations, according to Cohn. The immigrant group has a higher share of women of childbearing age, she said.

“In general, immigrants tend to be younger,” said Cohn. “They are the people who are willing to get up and leave and take the risk of going to another country, legally or not.”

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Overall, the U.S. birth rate has fallen to a record low in recent years, largely because of a decline in births to immigrants, according to Pew.

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Even as the number of births to immigrants declines, the issue has been getting extra attention in recent months.

Though the 14th Amendment to the Constitution grants an automatic right of citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., conservative politicians have suggested different interpretations of the amendment in recent years and called for an end to the practice.

The controversy reached a peak this summer when Trump demanded a repeal of birthright citizenship as a part of his plan to curb illegal immigration. He and other Republican contenders, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, drew fire from immigrant advocates and Democrats including Hillary Rodham Clinton for using the phrase “anchor babies” to describe the motives of immigrant mothers who give birth after traveling to the U.S. Although Bush used that term, he has said he does not support an end to birthright citizenship.

Trump’s campaign staff has claimed that as many as 400,000 children are born each year to immigrants in the country illegally, though Trump more recently has put the figure at 300,000.

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According to a separate report from Pew in 2011, 57% of Americans opposed changing the constitution to end birthright citizenship, and 39% favored such a change.

@katelinthicum

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