My friend M recently passed a young woman with a pack walking alone on a deserted rural road in the United States. In the rain. Now, I’d see this as a potential opening scene for a horror movie. M saw it as a Nicholas Sparks book. M stopped and offered the soaked young woman (we’ll call her “Anna”) a ride. Anna accepted.
Anna’s grandmother had thrown the eighteen-year-old out. Anna asked M to take her to Social Security Administration Offices. Anna had heard that Social Security would set her up in a group home, since she had been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD. These disabilities, Anna believed, ensured that the government would have to take care of her from now on.
M tried to explain that Social Security went to those who retired after working. She asked if Anna had ever held a job. Anna had gotten her GED, she said, but she couldn’t get a job at the local convenience store until she was 21. M asked if she’d applied for any other jobs.
“No,” Anna said. “But it’s okay. My boyfriend is in Europe. I’ll go live with him.”
M asked, “Do you have a visa?”
Anna proudly held up a visa credit card. “Of course!”
M then explained that 1) the Social Security Administration was closed, and 2) there are significant differences in credit cards and work visas. She asked Anna how she planned on getting to Europe.
Anna said, “A plane.”
This relieved M, who had been a little worried about Anna’s grasp of international borders.
Then Anna said, “If I have to go all the way across the country, I should take a plane, right?”
I met Isabel in my first job in the entertainment industry. We were assistants in adjoining cubicles. Her boss sold the Latin American rights to our movies. I’d heard Isabel on the phone. She spoke Spanish far, far better than I did. I finally asked her if she majored in Spanish.
She glared at me. “Ha, ha.”
“What? Your accent is really good.”
Isabel took pity on the clueless white girl from the East Coast and explained that her parents were Mexican. She tried to leave it there, but I kept asking questions. Eventually Isabel realized I was a relentless story-hound, and not a racist. She told me the rest.
Her parents tried to immigrate to the U.S. for years. Without success.
Isabel’s mother finally walked across the Arizona border at nine months pregnant. Now, I’ve been south of the Tucson area a few times. It’s not all saguaros and resorts. It is a terrifying desert with plenty of mountain lions, coyotes, drug-runners, and scary-assed white people with guns. Isabel’s mother did it alone.
Her mom made it to the hospital just before Isabel was born. Once Isabel was born on American soil, she was automatically an American citizen. Her father and eventually joined Isabel and her mother, working hard but speaking little English. And while this, of course, made Isabel fluent in Spanish, it also made her first day of school terrifying. Bewildered, without a word of English, Isabel broke down and cried when an adult finally spoke to her in Spanish. (I cried, too when she told me the story. But I cry at Subaru commercials. Every damned time.)
Isabel learned English so well she didn’t have a trace of an accent when I met her. What she did have was a college degree. She also had a decent job and was a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.
When Isabel told me her story, I didn’t classify her as an “anchor baby.” I’d never even heard the term.
Nowadays Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump runs his perpetually factually incorrect mouth about how “400,000 anchor babies are born to illegal immigrants” from Mexico every year. And all of those illegals are rapists, by the way.
So I hear the term “anchor baby” all the time.
Because Donald Trump never shuts up.
“My Earnest Christian Cousin is an anchor baby,” Andy told me, not very long ago. “Sahm-Yee came over from Hong Kong when she was eight months pregnant. She stayed in Honolulu with us until after Earnest Christian Cousin was born.”
Earnest Christian Cousin was, as her name suggested, very active in the church. She was also a straight A student who graduated from a prestigious college in Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her family traveled between the U.S. and China until she went to college, and then they went back to China permanently. Earnest Christian Cousin got a job as a petroleum engineer in the U.S.
Republican Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush recently weighed in on the anchor baby issue, pandering to his imaginary Latino voters by insisting that all anchor babies were really Asian. (His mouth is as equally factually incorrect as Trump’s, since ALL “birth tourism” accounts for maybe 8,600 births a year in the U.S. And it’s not just Asian.)
You’d think a Republican Presidential Candidate like Jeb would be happy to have Earnest Christian Cousin as an American citizen. I mean, she’s Christian. She’s a freaking OIL engineer. More tax revenue, conservative values, and she’s likely to vote with the oil lobby. How is this “anchor baby” not a win-win Jeb and the Republican Party?
Oh, right. I forgot.
You’re a bunch of racists. Terrified of melanin. Of “otherness.” Just like the legislators who passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first U.S. law banning an entire ethnicity from entry into the United States. Just like the white proponents of “racial hygiene” who passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which banned Asians, Arabs, and most Africans.
And just like the Congressmen who allowed the Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939 to die in committee, rather than offer refuge to 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Hitler.
Well, perhaps you’re not really racists. I’m looking at you, Jeb, when I say that perhaps you believe that Latinos deserve the same entry into the United States your white forefathers had. Perhaps you’re just pandering to certain constituents. You know the ones. The ones who hide – and have always hidden – their racism behind statements like “Charity Begins at Home,” and “American Jobs for American Workers!”
These same constituents who claim to believe in the free market are apparently worried that other races would beat them out in the job market. (To which, like a good capitalist Republican, all GOP candidates SHOULD respond with, “Well, competition is good for the market!” But they never do.)
And maybe some of those white racist constituents should be worried. Maybe they aren’t inherently more awesome than other races. Maybe, if the U.S. opens its doors to people of color now as it did to their white ancestors, these Republicans will find that all races carry the same potential for success. Look at how well Isabel and Earnest Christian Cousin have done in the United States.
I can just hear some of my readers now: “But wait,” they say. “What about Anna? Wasn’t she a stupid, ignorant Mexican girl and an anchor baby, too?”
No. She wasn’t. She was a white girl in Virginia. One brought up to believe in government handouts, and not job-hunting and hard work. One who never had to learn to speak another language, or hold down a job while going to school. She didn’t endure racial slurs. She wasn’t bullied because of the color of her skin or the shape of her eyes. (But she was probably bullied for something, because there’s at least one asshole in every school.)
In any case, I don’t want to see anymore anchor babies.
I want our borders opened. I think we should give out visas left and right. I think we should document, health screen, vaccinate, and tax every single would-be immigrant, regardless of race or religion. And I think we should have a short path to citizenship for every non-criminal, undocumented person in this country.
Because if all this talk about anchor babies has taught us anything, it’s that in the end, people will find a way past any law, any barrier, and any government regulation to get what they want.
Or at least, that’s what conservatives say whenever liberals bring up gun control.
For more wonky information on the surprisingly racist immigration quotas throughout U.S. history, I’d recommend Culling the Masses, by David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martín.
For information on Eleanor Roosevelt’s hopeless fight to help Jewish refugees and the Wager-Rogers Bill of 1939, I’d suggest No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
For historical fiction related to the Chinese Exclusion Act, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, by Kelli Estes, came out a few months ago. While the one-dimensional modern-day characters overcome minimal, predictable issues in typical Harlequin Romance fashion, the historical characters and their struggles are considerably more compelling. And heart-wrenching, at least to me. I cried, but, again, SUBARU COMMERCIALS. I’d love to hear what a Chinese-American thinks of the book.
For historical fiction related to the Wager-Rogers Bill of 1939, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro will be coming out in November.