'Anchor Babies' Exist In Brazil, But Not In The U.S.

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Uruguay soccer team fans pose with a baby doll dressed in a Brazil jersey during the 2014 World Cup. Real children can give immigrants a foothold in Brazil, helping them avoid deportation. In the U.S., immigration laws make it unlikely that such "anchor babies" exist. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Anchor babies exist in Brazil, where immigration laws help immigrants in the country illegally avoid deportation. According to an article by São Paulo newspaper Folha , many immigrants in Brazil bare children there with the conscious effort to leverage those laws. Like the majority of countries in the Western hemisphere, Brazil grants citizenship to children born within its borders regardless of their parents’ nationality or immigration status. But Brazil takes those protections a step further than the U.S., prohibiting deportation for immigrant parents of Brazilian citizens. The consequence? Some immigrants can use their children as an “anchor” to Brazil, ensuring that they can stay in the country legally. While immigrant parents might have many of reasons to be in Brazil and give birth, an “anchor baby” could at least be a factor in their decision.

In the U.S., the anchor baby concept is legally far-fetched because no such laws exist. Recent use of the term anchor baby in the political sphere has been highly divisive. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush caused a stir in the U.S. last week when they used the term anchor babies to describe two different concepts. Jeb Bush later clarified that he was talking about birth tourism -- a small number of foreigners who plan births during short trips to the U.S. to ensure privileges to their children. Trump’s comments, clarified by a spokesperson, referred the more commonly understood definition -- parents using their kids to help themselves stay in the country. Trump implied that most if not all of the estimated 300,000 children born to unauthorized immigrants each year are intended to serve as loopholes in U.S. immigration law. The candidate used that logic to call for an end to birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

Parents of children born in the U.S. could in theory leverage their children’s citizenship to get green cards (permanent residency), but it would take decades, rendering the act extremely impractical. Immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than one year -- the basis of Trump’s argument -- would have to wait at least 31 years from the date of their child’s birth to the earliest date that they could obtain legal status. And having an American child cannot serve as a core defence against deportation like it can in Brazil. There are exceptions, as the Washington Post explained last week.

“Immigration courts routinely reject claims that an undocumented parent must remain in the United States to care for a U.S. citizen child. The main but rare legal exceptions are for children who are so seriously ill or profoundly disabled that one parent must care for them full-time, or for a child in need of medical care unavailable in their parents’ home country,” wrote Janell Ross for WaPo’s blog, The Fix.

In São Paulo, Brazil, immigrant mothers -- mainly from China -- give birth in local hospitals. Chinese immigrants currently make up one third of the expectant mothers being treated in prenatal wards in public hospitals, according to Folha. They often don’t speak Portuguese and rely on translators, which they hire. In the U.S., this might be denounced as an immigration “crisis” or a “flood.” In Brazil, it doesn’t appear to be a big deal.

"Just as many Brazilians try to have children abroad, the same thing happens with foreigners here. It's common," Dr. Clóvis Silveira Júnior, who coordinates city health centers, told Folha.

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