Last week, the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics issued the final birth statistics for 2007. They reported that in 2007, there were 4.3 million births in the United States, the highest total number of births ever in a single year.
Nearly 40% of those births were out-of-wedlock, also a new record in the U.S. It wasn't that long ago that those babies would have been called "illegitimate" or even worse. As George Lakoff pointed out so well, framing is everything. Out-of-wedlock is a fact; illegitimate is a moral judgment on the child's very nature and potential. Today, most of us would not label babies as illegitimate, recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of each baby born.
People who seek to demonize undocumented immigrants are now seeking to demonize their children born in the United States as "anchor babies." About 8 percent of babies born in the U.S. in 2008 are to women who are in the U.S. illegally. The term assumes that the mothers and fathers are using their children to improve their immigration status. As others have noted, this is false. Children born in the United States are U.S. citizens, but their mothers are not automatically citizens. In fact, they cannot apply for citizenship for ten years. Time magazine pointed out that a majority of these women are in the U.S. for more than a year before giving birth, underscoring that most are not coming to the U.S. to have children as a backdoor to citizenship. Babies are babies . . . no adjectives needed.
What concerns me is how a term such as "anchor babies" violates our very understanding of human life as sacred. Almost all faith traditions call for children to be nurtured and valued. Surely even those who advocate for heinous restrictions on people found to be in the U.S. without documentation, as is being implemented in Arizona and proposed in Virginia, recognize the dignity and worth of every child.
This is a value with which many who propagate the term "anchor babies" should be familiar. Many of the same people who are against abortion and family planning ironically rail against these primarily Latina women for giving birth. It is only when we so disdain and dehumanize the "other" that we can treat them like objects and conceive of them as means to an end. Babies are babies . . . no adjectives needed.
I think we need to be reminded of the stories of Jesus' birth in the gospels. The Matthew story ends with Joseph being told that the baby will be called "Emmanuel" for the birth means "God is with us." As a Unitarian Universalist minister, that's the promise of every new baby born, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth.
They're all just babies . . . no adjectives needed. And they are all a miracle waiting to unfold.
Follow Rev. Debra Haffner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revdebra