The Very Real Economic Costs of Birthright Citizenship

Ian Tuttle, National Review, August 21, 2015

Peter and Ellie Yang, the subjects of Benjamin Carlson’s fascinating new Rolling Stone essay, “Welcome to Maternity Hotel California,” paid $35,000 to have their second child in the United States. In 2012 Chinese state media reported 10,000 “tourist births” by Chinese couples in the United States; other estimates skew as high as 60,000.

Following Donald Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship, and renewed attention on “anchor babies,” Carlson’s exposé on “birth tourism” seems to confirm that the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment works as a magnet for at least some parents across the globe. But just how big a magnet is it?

According to Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) legal policy analyst Jon Feere, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security in April, between 350,000 and 400,000 children are born annually to an illegal-alien mother residing in the United States–as many as one in ten births nationwide. As of 2010, four out of five children of illegal aliens residing in the U.S. were born here–some 4 million kids. Reporting that finding, the Pew Research Center noted that, while illegal immigrants make up about 4 percent of the adult population, “because they have high birthrates, their children make up a much larger share of both the newborn population (8 percent) and the child population (7 percent) in this country.”

{snip} According to CIS, 71 percent of illegal-alien headed households with children received some sort of welfare in 2009, compared with 39 percent of native-headed houses with children. Illegal immigrants generally access welfare programs through their U.S.-born children, to whom government assistance is guaranteed. Additionally, U.S.-born children of illegal aliens are entitled to American public schools, health care, and more, even though illegal-alien households rarely pay taxes.

The short-term cost of “anchor babies” was revealed a decade ago in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. “‘Anchor babies’ born to illegal aliens instantly qualify as citizens for welfare benefits and have caused enormous rises in Medicaid costs and stipends under Supplemental Security Income and Disability Income,” wrote medical attorney Madeleine Pelner Cosman. She noted the increasingly costly situation in California:

In 2003 in Stockton, California, 70 percent of the 2,300 babies born in San Joaquin General Hospital’s maternity ward were anchor babies, and 45 percent of Stockton children under age six are Latino (up from 30 percent in 1993). In 1994, 74,987 anchor babies in California hospital maternity units cost $215 million and constituted 36 percent of all Medi-Cal [California’s Medicaid program] births. Now [2005] they account for substantially more than half.

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There are long-term costs, too. U.S.-born children of illegal aliens can sponsor the immigration of family members once they come of age. At 18, an “anchor baby” can sponsor an overseas spouse and unmarried children of his own; at 21, he can sponsor parents and siblings. {snip}

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But “anchor babies” are a largely preventable phenomenon, mainly by simply enforcing current immigration laws. Stopping illegal immigration at the border, and instituting an actually effective visa-tracking system to crack down on overstays, would do much to discourage efforts to take advantage of American largesse.

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