Part 4—TNR fails to explain: Kevin Drum had read a piece at the New Republic.
Frankly, he was puzzled. He didn’t think the TNR piece lived up to its headline:
DRUM (8/21/15): I'm curious about something. Last night I read a longish piece at TNR by Gwyneth Kelly titled “Why ‘Anchor Baby’ Is Offensive.” I was actually sort of curious about that, so I read through it. But all the article did was provide a bit of history about the term and quote a bunch of people saying it was disgusting and dehumanizing. There was no explanation of why it’s offensive.Saying he would likely regret it, Drum decided to issue his now-famous “‘Anchor baby’ challenge.” He asked his readers to explain why the term should be viewed as offensive.
“It's not obvious from first principles what the problem is here,” Drum offensively said.
On balance, we agree with Drum’s apparent skepticism. In our view, it isn’t obvious why the term in question should be viewed as offensive, or as “super offensive,” or as “an offensive, derogatory slur,” to use Kelly’s language.
At long last, let’s drop that question. But just for the record, Drum was plainly right about the TNR piece. Despite the headline on the piece, Gwyneth Kelly didn’t even try to explain why the term in question should be deemed offensive. She simply asserted that that the term is offensive, then offered a brief critique of Donald Trump’s claims in this area.
Drum was right to notice the fact that the piece doesn’t live up to the headline. That said, we strongly recommend Kelly’s piece, which helps us see the way our liberal tribe currently tends to reason.
What can we learn from Kelly’s piece? Let’s take a look at the record:
For starters, let’s note a basic fact. The headline which sits atop her piece makes two claims, not just one. This is the current full headline:
“Why ‘Anchor Baby’ Is Offensive—and a Distortion of Truth”
Kelly makes two basic claims in her piece. As she starts, she claims that the term “anchor baby” is offensive—“an offensive, derogatory slur.”
She then moves on to a second claim. She says the term “distorts the truth.”
This strikes us as the more significant claim, but Kelly gives it short shrift. This is her full discussion of this second, substantive claim, before she shifts back to her principal claim, her claim that the term is offensive:
KELLY (8/20/15): The term also distorts the truth. As Politifact noted in 2010, foreigners do come to the use to give birth to a U.S. citizen, but it's not the kind of foreigner Trump imagines:The offensiveness of “anchor baby” shouldn't be up for debate! So says Kelly, without bothering to explain why the term is offensive at all!
“While that does appear to be happening with affluent ‘birth tourists,’ it's important to understand that those affluent ‘birth tourists’ are not the ones illegally crossing the Rio Grande or the Sonoran desert. They are coming here with the proper legal papers and giving birth. Thus, whatever public policy challenges arise from ‘birth tourism’ are separate and distinct from the public policy challenges of illegal immigration.”
Moreover, while the Fourteenth Amendment does guarantee citizenship for babies born in the United States (with some exceptions: the children of diplomats, occupying forces or anyone born on foreign public ships), that citizenship does not automatically extend to the child’s parents. An American child of undocumented parents must wait until they are 21 to petition for their parents’ citizenship. In the meantime, parents can be deported; sometimes their children leave with them, other times the children are placed in foster care.
Nonetheless, Trump would like to see the law changed to address this phantom menace. He told Fox News that, according to “some very, very good lawyers,” the longstanding legal consensus that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship “is not going to hold up in court.” This insurgent constitutional interpretation is certainly up for debate. The offensiveness of “anchor baby” should not be.
At any rate, that is Kelly’s full account of what she calls “this phantom menace.” In our view, it’s a lazy, faux attempt to discuss the full set of facts on the ground, as we’ll note below.
After making this facile attempt, Kelly returns to the claim we tribally love—the claim that Candidate Trump’s language is offensive. This is very much the principal way our tribe now likes to “reason.”
At present, our tribe is anchored to the act of eagerly taking offense! We love to accuse The Others of slurs. We’re less inclined to immerse ourselves in the substance of policy questions.
We fluff ourselves with our sense of moral superiority. We leave ourselves without the tools to win real debates, to change people's understandings.
Make no mistake! Trump’s immigration proposals strike us as utterly ludicrous. His kick-off speech, in which he characterized unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the most unpleasant ways possible, struck us as utterly heinous, a point we made at the time.
(Darling Rachel said nothing about Trump’s appalling statement that night. She barely mentioned his statement on the next evening’s program. Instead, she continued to cavort and play about a set of silly side points, wondering if Trump had hired actors to attend his kick-off speech. Today, Maddow claims to be “super-offended” by the term “anchor baby.” We’re all free to believe her, of course.)
Trump’s immigration proposals strike us as utterly ludicrous. But Kelly’s piece strikes us as lazy and perhaps a bit less than obsessively honest. In fairness, she gives us our tribal fix—we get to condemn another “slur!” But she tells us very little about the facts on the ground.
What’s missing in Kelly’s brief attempt to deal with the substance of Trump’s proposals? Let’s go back to the very beginning, to the first appearances of the term she frames as a slur.
Judging from the Nexis archive, the term “anchor baby” first appeared in American newspapers in 2001. At that time, activists who used that term tended to make a specific claim. You see the outline of the claim in a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which Colin Campbell described the mail he’d been getting:
CAMPBELL (2/27/01): Some people hate the flood of foreign immigrants into metro Atlanta. I know this because of the mail I'm getting about a column I did a couple of Sundays ago in which I confessed to taking pleasure in the city's newly cosmopolitan feel. (I also admitted some obvious problems.) Of course there are readers who share my delight. But others have nothing good to say about immigration. To them it's a threat...That was the original claim. If a non-citizen gave birth in this country, her child would be an American citizen—and this would allow the whole family to move to the States!
Several readers sent me material on the campaign to change the Constitution so that U.S. birth won't automatically confer citizenship. (Critics note that “anchor babies” are allowing whole clans to move here).
In 2002, columnist John McCaslin advanced the same general notion in the Washington Times. So did Dennis Byrne in the Chicago Tribune:
MCCASLIN (7/11/02): There was considerable reaction from around the country to our item this week on birthright citizenship and its related phenomenon that has been dubbed “anchor babies.”As early as 2002, the Los Angeles Times was noting a problem with this presentation, even as it noted the rise of what is now called “birth tourism.” In a long report which focused on South Koreans coming to Los Angeles to give birth, Barbara Demick noted a wrinkle in U.S. immigration law—the very wrinkle Kelly cited thirteen years later:
The United States, we reported, grants automatic citizenship to babies born in this country to illegal aliens, temporary workers, even tourists. The babies can eventually “anchor” their extended families in the United States, thus precipitating an unlimited number of “chain immigrants” with the right to immigrate.
BYRNE (7/29/02): Consider the movement for “birthright citizenship” and “anchor babies.” It is based on the fact that the United States automatically grants citizenship to babies born in the country—including to babies whose mothers are here temporarily, as tourists or even illegally. Of course, once the baby is defined as a citizen, his family gets preferential immigration treatment. An entire industry has developed around getting pregnant women into this country just for that purpose.
DEMICK (5/25/02): “Even though it is not illegal immigration per se, it is exploiting a loophole,” said Jack Martin, a project director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that advocates restrictions on immigration.Were that many babies born to illegal immigrants that year? We don’t know, but Demick cited the same part of immigration law Kelly cited in TNR.
The federation is especially critical of what it calls anchor babies, whom mothers arrange to have in the United States with the hope that the child will later help the entire family immigrate. Under the law, a U.S. citizen cannot sponsor anyone for immigration purposes until the age of 21, but according to Martin, the long wait is not a deterrent.
“It is hard to conceptualize a strategy that is so long-term with regard to U.S. citizenship, but that's what they are doing—establishing a foothold,” he said.
The federation says 165,000 babies are born in the United States each year to illegal immigrants, most of them from Mexico.
Uh-oh! Under immigration law, a family can’t automatically stay in the States just because its child is born a citizen. That baby can’t sponsor his parents for citizenship until he turns 21!
This complicates the initial, simple-minded claim in which entire families were able to come to the U.S., “anchored” by one birthright citizen baby. As it turned out, that initial claim was misleading, facile, massively simplified.
Kelly cited that aspect of U.S. law in her TNR piece. Every liberal knows to cite it, after which we get to return to the practice we love—taking offense at the “slurs” The Other Tribe is employing.
We modern liberals love the act of taking offense in this manner. As the responses to Drum helped show, we’re even happy to take offense when we can’t seem to explain what makes the term in question offensive! The answers Drum received to his challenge ought to embarrass any progressive. They show us for what we often are—juvenile, unpleasant, dumb.
Ditto-headed in every way. Driven by the ancient joy of thoroughly loathing The Other.
Kelly never bothered explaining why that term is offensive. But then, she failed to do something else in her piece:
She failed to note what Trump has actually said when he’s used the term “anchor baby.”
So far, Candidate Trump hasn’t evoked the original, simple-minded claim in which “anchor babies” let whole families gain American citizenship. Below, you see what he said in New Hampshire when he touched off the current dispute, in which cable stars try to top each other about who is most offended.
TRUMP (8/19/15): There’s a very big question as to the anchor babies. They’ve been talking about it for years. There is a very big question as to whether or not the 14th Amendment actually covers this. We’re going to find out whether or not it does.In that statement, Trump wasn’t complaining about whole families gaining citizenship through the birth of a child. He was advancing a different type of complaint. He was saying that children born to undocumented / illegal / unauthorized residents will be eligible for all sorts of benefits over the eighty years of their lives.
Changing the 14th Amendment would take years and years. It's a long, drawn-out process. A lot of people think that it is absolutely, in terms of anchor babies, that it is not covered. So we're going to find out.
But look, here’s the story. Here’s what happens. Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait!
Here’s what's happening.
A woman is going to have a baby. They wait on the border. Just before the baby, they come over to the border. They have the baby in the United States. We now take care of that baby: Social Security, Medicare, education. Give me a break. It doesn't work that way. The parents have to come in legally.
Now, we’re going to have to find out what's going to happen from a court standpoint. But many people, many of the great scholars say that anchor babies are not covered. We're going to find out.
In some ways, this claim is plainly accurate—and a lot of beautiful kids are born to illegal / unauthorized / undocumented residents of this country each year. In a study in 2010, Pew estimated that 340,000 babies were born in 2008 to parents who were unauthorized / undocumented / illegal residents of the U.S.
That was roughly eight percent of all babies born in the U.S. that year! To cite one possible challenge of the type to which Trump referred, those beautiful kids and their undocumented / illegal / unauthorized siblings and cousins can present a challenge to American public schools.
Personally, we aren’t troubled by that, at least as matters currently stand. But no one’s required to think that this is a good way of doing things.
Can we talk? Candidate Trump is a remarkably classic demagogue. Like a certain figure from the last century, he extends his lower lip and insists that he can make the trains run on time.
In times of confusion and dysfunction, this stance can be quite appealing—always has been, all over the world.
Is Trump a well-intentioned figure? We can’t measure that. But in the face of claims which seem appealing, it isn’t enough to drop R-bombs and complain that The Others are being offensive, especially when we can’t even explain why we’re making that claim.
Are unauthorized / undocumented / illegal residents taking jobs from American citizens? Through birthright citizenship, are the beautiful children of these residents creating various types of challenges, financial and otherwise, within the overall society?
These questions aren’t crazy questions. Indeed, all over the world, developed nations have been rolling back their own birthright citizenship laws in response to such considerations.
It isn’t enough for liberals to respond to such considerations by littering the countryside with our favorite weapon, our R-bombs. That said, the dropping of bombs is plainly the thing we liberals most enjoy at this time.
Can we be honest for once? We’re unpleasant and tribal and full of the loathing we love to attribute to Others! Just exactly as Drum observed, Kelly never explained why the term in question should be considered offensive or a slur. But then, she also didn’t speak to the actual concerns Trump actually raised in his statement about those darn “anchor babies.”
Kelly didn’t even explain why that term is offensive! But down through history, tribal haters like us have never stopped to explain.
The term “anchor baby” migrated, years back, from its original narrow use. It’s now often used in a more general sense, as a reference to all children born to illegal / unauthorized / undocumented residents who become U.S. citizens due to birthright citizenship.
To many people, the practice of birthright citizenship won’t make obvious sense. The claim that taxpayers are getting ripped off will make sense to these people.
On their face, such concerns aren’t crazy. Are we willing to learn to speak to those people's concerns? Or are we anchored to unexplained tribal loathing, the oldest scourge on the planet?
Anchors are brown, Drum’s commenters said. In our view, those comments should serve as a wake-up call to our whole self-impressed tribe.
Are we willing to love our neighbor? or do we love dropping bombs?