Jeb Bush used to be the Mr. Rogers of GOP presidential candidates—a gentle fellow who would put you to sleep a
few minutes after coming on TV. Now Bush is the GOP's Bambi—a frozen deer who doesn't know which way to turn as the headline-beaming monster truck that is Donald Trump bears down upon him.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Bush's recent cringe-inducing suggestion that the real abusers of America's birthright citizenship are Asian birth tourists—not Latino "anchor babies," as Trump claims.
But as the GOP's token pro-immigration candidate, if Bush had half of Trump's cojones, he wouldn't throw Asians under the bus to save Latinos. He'd tell Trump that "anchor babies" are a problem more hyped up than Trump's bouffant—and birth tourism is a blessing that America should wholeheartedly welcome.
"Anchor babies" are a myth invented by restrictionists to try and scrap America's constitutionally guaranteed right to birthright citizenship. The term used to refer to pregnant Latino women who supposedly deliberately and illegally came to America to give birth to American children who would become mom and dad's green card sponsors. But this scheme can involve wait times of up to 31 years (kids can't sponsor before age 21, and parents sometimes have to wait 10 years outside America before qualifying). Hence, restrictionists couldn't find many examples to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria. So now they have dubbed every one of the 300,000 children born to undocumented parents annually as anchor babies whose real purpose is to prevent their unauthorized parents from being deported.
This argument is ridiculous. Vanishingly few undocumented immigrants have children specifically to escape deportation. They have children because they want to—for any number of non-cynical reasons. And yes, this can sometimes help them escape deportation. But don't conflate that consequence of birth with the motives for pregnancy.
Anchor babies don't exist in any meaningful sense. Birth tourism, however, does. And that's a good thing.
No super-reliable figures are available, but the number commonly bandied about puts birth tourist babies at a mere 35,000 annually. Unlike the poor, unauthorized Latino parents of mythical "anchor babies," birth tourism involves relatively well-off couples, the vast majority from China, who come to America when it comes time to give birth so their kid will score U.S. citizenship.
Another benefit for these Chinese couples: Beijing's autocrats don't count children born with other nationalities against a couple's one-child quota. No doubt, a U.S. passport for their newborn is a huge attraction. But America is not the only destination for couples trying to dodge China's draconian birth control policies. Mainland Chinese couples also flock to Hong Kong (all of which the pro-life, pro-family conservative editors of National Review Online should understand and applaud rather than running confused pieces like this conflating "anchor babies" and birth tourists to promote their anti-birthright citizenship crusade).
Immigration restrictionists love to deride "anchor baby" parents for being in the United States illegally. But that's not true with birth tourists. They come here legally. Even a recent Rolling Stone "expose" of Los Angeles-based maternity agencies acknowledged: "Birth tourists, arriving on legal visas, aren't breaking any laws while in the country." Meanwhile, a May Bloomberg Businessweek story about these agencies—that for a fee of up to $50,000 help a couple obtain U.S. visas, put them up in hotels during their long stay in America, arrange doctors and hospitals and then passports for their infant—found that most of them go out of their way to coach their clients in "cheng shi qian" (honest visa applications). This is not to say that no one lies, but it is far from standard practice—which is why a Department of Homeland Security raid on maternity hotels earlier this year didn't seem to come up with many instances of visa fraud, despite a long undercover investigation.
Restrictionists constantly accuse "anchor baby" parents of mooching off American taxpayers by using emergency services for child delivery and collecting welfare through their American child. (Never mind that unauthorized parent-headed households receive far less welfare than native ones of similar income, and are far less prone to welfare dependency.) But none of that applies to birth tourists, who, with few exceptions, pay for the entire cost of delivery out of pocket. In fact, the agency that formed the cornerstone of the Bloomberg story went out of its way to ensure that its clients don't use public money, and keep copious documentation to prove that.
More to the point, birth tourist babies go home to be raised during their most expensive phase—only to possibly return to America after their 18th birthday, during their most productive phase. In effect, birth tourism allows America to outsource the raising of its citizens, resulting in enormous savings, given that it costs a whopping $300,000 to raise a child in a middle-income family in America today.
Every adult immigrant, even poor Latinos, constitute a windfall for America, given that America reaps the dividends of another society's investment in them. (Indeed, immigration is arguably a far cheaper way than having children for a society to maintain its population level.) But birth tourist babies are a special boon because they are the product of super-ambitious parents who are obviously sparing no expense or effort to build their child's full potential and give him/her options.
This is why it is all the more unfortunate that Jeb Bush put birth tourists in the crosshairs of his party's ugly war on immigration. He has said in the past that Latinos who come to America illegally to give their children a better life are engaging in an "act of love." This is equally true for Asian birth tourists.
Bush should have used their example to defend and strengthen America's birthright citizenship against Trump's attacks. Instead, in his panic about his nose-diving poll numbers, he may have done the opposite—all of which inspires less confidence than the last President Bush who at least stuck to his guns.
This column was originally published in The Week.