Anchor Babies (#79)


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.

IMG_0378Isabel’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.

Chinese Exclusion
Political cartoon from 1882, courtesy of Wikipedia

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 Isabel’s Mom — and all the other mothers who refused to give up on a better life for their children.


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.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

45 thoughts on “Anchor Babies (#79)”

  1. I would also include that most times those jobs taken by immigrants are menial jobs that people born in this country don’t want. Good post. You don’t usually get political!

    1. Aw, thanks, Kate! Yes, a good point on the kinds of labor many immigrants do.

      You’re right, I try and keep the blog more of a humorous memoir. But sometimes politics creep in. As the election nears, more political posts may appear. Maybe I should have warning labels?

      1. And what would the warning say? Sane person here. Trump worshippers need not stop by? Of course by the time of the election we will all be sick of it. Oh wait! I am already! Sometimes I wonder if people are as stupid as newspapers make them out to be. One more point on immigrants, both of my grandparents emigrated from Germany. They lived in a community with others like themselves and none of the four of them learned to speak English. When I hear people complain about people not speaking good English I think of my grandparents. They were good people.

        1. Almost all immigrants left behand all their belongings and went to a new country to make better lives for their children. They worked so hard all day long, all week long, they didn’t have time to learn the language of the country they went to.
          Of course they should know the basics, but none of them need a degree in English literature, it’s pointless. You need at least to know the basics so you woun’t have to be dependent on your children 24/7.
          But I think it is ridiculous to use the language issue as a campaign issue.

  2. It deeply saddens me on a very personal level that the children and grandchildren of immigrants to this country, who fled from the economic and political hegemony of a hated imperialist empire and faced nativist attacks, ethnic prejudice, and exclusionary policies, are themselves now the face of Know Nothing nativism.

    I could very well be talking about Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, but I’m actually talking about my extended very Irish family.

  3. This agitation which is currently going on all around the world makes me recall events which were going on not too long ago in Europe. When Hitler killed millions of people because of their provenance, social background, religion, race, sexual orientation… It only happened 70 years ago, but the generation who grew up with the memories of it are almost gone, and a new generation takes the lead. And it is so sad to see that these new ‘wanna-be’ management level tries to come to power while agitating against one certain group of people and blames them for all misfortunes which happend to their countries. And there are scared (dumb) people who actually believe in these mischievous lies.
    (Sorry that topic makes me just too angry because of all the discussions which are going on right now, about whether to take refugees in or not here in Europe.)

  4. This past week my family and I visited the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s International District. My seven-year-old grandson was mainly interested in the kick-ass Bruce Lee exhibit. But other exhibits told the stories of families impacted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. During the 1800s the Chinese provided cheap labor for building Seattle’s infrastructure. About 3/4 of the 20,000 workers on the Northern Pacific Railway were Chinese. It sounds like a win-win for Seattle. And yet, in 1886 a mob of about 2000 drove 700 Chinese from their homes.

    All this ugly history was remembered when, following the shooting death of beloved Chinese American local leader, Donnie Chin, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution apologizing for Seattle’s past anti-Chinese actions.

    Mobs can blow up like a wild fire. The huge fires of hatred sparked by Donald Trump are frightening.

    1. Kelli Estes mentions the Wing Luke Museum in “The Girl Who Wrote in Silk,” as well as the mob of 1886. We will definitely have to check it out some day.

      Frightening, indeed.

  5. Great post, Autumn! You tell them, girl!

    It saddens me to no end when this racist BS keeps coming up in the US. But what’s even worse is that even with this going on, lots of people still believe racism and discrimination no longer happens.

    1. Thank you, Jocelyn. Yes, as a person who rarely experiences racism, it can be hard to believe. With hard-hitting journalism replaced by fluff, at least we have social media and iPhones to gather and share evidence.

      If people would only turn away from the Kardashians long enough to look.

  6. Poor Anna. But really, it is the environment that she has been brought up in that has played a part in how she probably is today. Anchor babies – a term I’ve never heard, but now I know and it doesn’t sound very nice at all. But you are so right. People eventually will find a way to get past the laws because they are so desperate for a better life, willing to risk it all. It’s sort of how many spend days and weeks and perhaps months on a boat to Australia to start a new life.

  7. Yes, you are absolutely right about Anna. She would benefit — as would all children — from a greater emphasis on education in the United States.

    But that is not part of the Republican agenda. Their agenda is increasing the wealth of the top 1%, and they repeatedly convince poor white America to vote against its own economic, environmental, and social interests by fear mongering against Asians, African-Americans, and Latinos. (Abortion is also a tremendous crowd-pleaser.) Without education, critical thinking, and exposure to different viewpoints, it’s easy to fall for black and white sound bytes. Especially when you have to work multiple jobs. So the cycle continues. 🙁

    1. I just read a little bit about the US presidental candidates and it is almost only about (illegal) immigrants only. It looks like there is only this one major problem in the US, which is actually only a problem because government can’t handle it better. Do people really vote for such people like Donald Trump? Don’t they hope for better strategies for their future? Like really? A wall between Canadian and US border? Do people really think that’s a good idea?

      1. Trump appeals, I think, to older white people, many of them less educated. They want simple answers to complex questions and they are tired of being told that their outdated, racist views should be kept to themselves. Which is why they say things like, “I like him because he speaks his mind!”

        Translation: Trump says all the racist, stupid stuff I think!

        He appeals to about 20% of Republicans, so I think it works out to about 10% of our population. Unfortunately, half of our population doesn’t vote, and Trump’s appeal is higher among those who do vote.

        So yeah, a simple thing like a fence sounds great to them. (Never mind that our existing infrastructure is crumbling.) And Trump builds HUGE skyscrapers and golf courses so he’s totally the right guy to build a fence.

  8. In South Africa, babies born to undocumented parents are not automatically granted citizenship. It’s a nightmare for children born into poverty who aren’t able to prove their parentage. My friend is currently in the process of trying to adopt a child like this, who is four years old and has no legal ID because her birth wasn’t properly documented. It makes me so angry, and it makes me furious that politicians are agitating to change these laws in the U.S. I agree — open all the borders in the world and let us just live as people. Ok, that makes me sound like John Lennon. End of rant.

  9. I am not going to comment on the political side of things in the US because I am not really up-to-date with what is happening. However, your first story struck a chord with me. When I was moving to Taiwan, I had a friend of a friend, looked at me seriously and said ‘You know, Pauline lives in Japan. Maybe she can show you around?’ Right now, she has a government job.

      1. I wouldn’t worry about it. At least, you noticed the errors.

        And as a bonus you don’t think Taiwan is in/is the same place as Japan.

      1. Some people are seriously bad at geography. I thought Thai food meant food from Taiwan until I was about 20 years old. And it’s not just western people (well, let’s be honest here, Americans) who do it. I hear Chinese people say the most ridiculous stuff like that Paris is a country. I think it’s kind of funny.

          1. I can’t speak for China’s status, but the U.S. Educational System is in serious need of an overhaul. And not the Texas revisionist history kind. More the Finnish model.

            It is a disgrace, what most American kids don’t learn.

          2. In the case, I don’t think it matters. I believe China has the best high school math and reading scores on the planet despite being a developing country.

  10. Ahhhh, yes, thank you for explaining the anchor baby thingy that I have been seeing in the headlines, but refuse to click on. Whateverz. The thing about ridiculous statements from candidates like Jeb and Comb-Over is that people actually LISTEN to them. That’s what gets me. If you are that ignorant and stupid and shouting in front of a mic, the masses should be bright enough to just tune them out. These candidates are a sad sad reflection of the times we live in.

    1. Well, they are nothing knew, really. There have been idiots/ racists running for office forever and idiots electing them forever. But I wish we had a six week campaign season like England, all funded with public money. That would be bearable.

  11. This post is amazing, Autumn. Thank you for writing it. And hats off to your co-worker… her parents weren’t deported were they? Were they both able to stay in the USA in the long run?

    The story about Visa girl from Virginia is awful. I live in an area of California with, as my roommate calls them, “some of the most ghetto ass people in this country.” I hate to say it, but they really are the dregs of society.

    This story reminded me of when I asked my boyfriend (doctor) and roommate (traveling nurse) about what kind of patients they usually get at the hospital, because most of their stories always involve a 1. homeless person 2. drug seeker 3. demented person with no family/friends/nothing. Especially the traveling nurse at the ER, she said close to 80% of her patients were drug seekers. The traveling nurse said that the ambulatory staff that brings in these patients often describe the patient’s homes as dirty and run down with their kids running around naked. The ironic part? They have big screen TVs, iPads, and Escalades.

    These are the kinds of Americans that deserve to stay, yet the hard working immigrants need to leave? Ugh.

    The term anchor baby is awful. Trump is also a hypocrite, seeing that one of his wives was from Slovenia and his mother was born in Scotland. Dur.

    1. Thank you, Mary.

      The drug seekers are a real problem for hospital staff, drawing attention and service away from the injured. We need a better method of dealing with that issue as well. 🙁 Does Richard have any suggestions? I foresee a future guest post!!!!

      Yes, when I spent part of a summer working in the Appalachian Service Project, it amazed me that residents cared more about a satellite dish than indoor plumbing. But on a hill in the middle of nowhere, I could see the lure. In their case, lack of education, early disability due to lung disease (thanks, coal mining!) and lack of sex education and birth control made the circle of grinding poverty hard to escape. It was eye-opening for sure, as was living in South Central LA at one point.

      Even travel in your own country is fatal to ignorance, I guess.

  12. I am conflicted. Very few countries offer birthright citizenship outright. I understand the reasons why we have it, but honestly birth tourism does piss me off. I have watched my students work years and years to improve their English while their families scrape every last RMB they have to give their kid a chance to study abroad in university. . . yet a rich Chinese woman (yes, birth tourism is becoming particularly popular among wealthy Chinese, though of course it isn’t limited to them) can plan a vacation to have a baby in America. It doesn’t seem fair to me.

    I am definitely not for open borders. It is perhaps a great idea in theory, but do you honestly think it can work in practice? Don’t you think it would create more problems than it would solve? I am all for immigration reform, but I think we have to be realistic with our expectations. If one says “let’s just open all borders,” quite frankly, it’s hard for me to take her seriously.

    I’m not a liberal (or a conservative) and I feel very, very scared to share any of my opinions as I’m afraid there may be little room for discussion and I will be ripped to shreds. But I’ve gone ahead and done it anyways. Ah, well.

    1. Do not fear, Rosie! Just because people don’t agree doesn’t mean they can’t be civil.

      I can see your point about the injustice of working hard and legally becoming a citizen versus someone rich using money to exploit loopholes. Birth tourism is actually quite low, probably about 8,000 a year, compared to 300,000 undocumented immigrant births. So in fact, most of the immigrant children born are very poor.

      My point is that if we make a path to citizenship easier for everyone, it won’t just be reserved for the rich.

      My other point is that we have millions — yes, millions! — of illegal immigrants here already. We are getting no tax revenue from those undocumented immigrants, and without health screenings and care, the potential for contagious disease — such as the drug resistant strains of TB — increases. While most are law-abiding, in many cases they won’t report crimes out of fear of deportation, which leads to such exploitation as sex workers, among other things.

      It was much easier for our white ancestors to enter this country. And I see no reason why we shouldn’t make it just as easy for anyone to enter now. I have a real problem with changing the rules of the game once you’re in power in order to remain in power and deny others the same opportunities we were given. That’s not the kind of country I want to live in.

      The current immigrant system desperately needs reform. I’ve written down my thoughts.

      What kind of overhaul would you envision, since you can’t take mine seriously?

      1. In terms of opening borders, I wasn’t actually thinking of the US specifically. I was thinking of the situation in Eastern Europe now, where thousands of people are flooding in from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. If they opened there borders, I don’t know know how they would cope with the influx of people–people who most likely don’t speak the local language, come from a completely different culture, and perhaps have very little money (if any).

        1. As far as a solution, I don’t have one. I don’t know enough about the issue. I just think we’d have to think quite carefully about how to change immigration in a way that’s more fair but doesn’t completely tax our resources. As you explained your idea more clearly in your comment, it makes a little more sense to me. I was under the impression, particularly by 2Summers comment, that we should just let anyone and everyone in without any regulation or process.

          1. Well, even this liberal is aware that some persons might deliberately do bad things to western countries. But there are others, with various strains of disease, that might unwittingly infect the populace. So there has to be process and regulation.

            Which is not ideal, either, with smuggled migrants dying in trucks on various borders.

    2. I didn’t want to comment till now. I agreed with you wholeheartedly, Rosie.

      I’m not White nor am I Conservative or Liberal.

      In the course of my career, I have had to make very difficult, complex and sensitive decisions pertaining to people’s lives, the human rights of the dead, the victims and the living on behalf of the Government. One respondent submitted petitions and called me heartless… perhaps I was but I supported her decision to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights at the Hague. It has yet to come to Court. There were no winners here, not even me. For every decisions made, the impacts were far-reaching.

      I’m a member of two leading NHS Foundation Trusts where matters such as finance are managed locally. I don’t use the NHS much for personal reasons unless it’s critical / essential but I support their polices eg funding.They know they’ve a problem with birth tourism and they are drawing a tough line on the offenders.

  13. Regardless of how the immigration system is reformed (open borders, Trump’s wall, etc.), I think it’s also important to think about the consequences to our daily lives. Specifically, the costs of production and services that rely on low-cost undocumented labor (farming, etc.) will go up. The rich won’t be affected by increased prices for fruits, vegetables, etc., but how will big business respond to unions with increased membership? I’m all for immigration reform, but it’s impacts will reach far beyond the borders.

    1. A definite point. Food is very, VERY cheap in the United States. One might even say “artificially cheap,” compared to Europe. However, if a person actually made a living wage with minimum wage, and big business maybe, I don’t know, CAPPED/ taxed the crap out of exorbitant CEO salaries, I could see benefits to human beings AND the economy.

      Let us harken back to the tax structure of the 40s-50s!

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