By Christina Saenz
Over the last year, the political Right, such as Lamar Smith and John McCain, has waged a war on “anchor babies”—a myth that immigrant parents are purposefully having children within American borders in order to get citizenship for themselves. Social scientific evidence and common sense do not bolster the Right’s reasons for why the 14th Amendment should be overturned. For example, Princeton Sociologist Douglas Massey found in his interviews with undocumented immigrants that they never cited “having children” as their reason to enter the US without papers. Under the unsubstantiated assumption that an “anchor baby” is intentionally born, the parents would have to wait 21 years for the child to sponsor them on top of the ten-year ban as a result of being in the US without papers and the additional processing time to receive a family visa. Rigorous research and pure common sense deconstructs the myth of anchor babies. So, what is this 14th Amendment debate really about? It is about the demonization of Latinas’ sexual and reproductive behaviors to scare the whit majority.
If history provides any clue about the current debate on anchor babies and Latinas’ sexuality, the US has a deplorable history of developing policies and a scientific culture that have sought to control Latinas’ reproduction. For example, with the stamp approval of the FDA, birth control was first tested on women in Puerto Rico and Mexico City, who did not understand the implications of the drug trials. Doctors in Puerto Rico—administering the clinical trials—believed that there was a “population problem” and “a pressing need for sterilization and birth control.” Some estimates argue that a third of the female population in Puerto Rico was rendered sterile upon completion of the trials.
How does birth control history connect to the current debates about “anchor babies?” Jane Chastain—a conservative and California-based columnist—shows this point perfectly in her reaction to Bush’s discussions around a guest worker program. She advocated a policy that would either overturn the 14th Amendment or “seal up the wombs” of guest workers. She has no qualms that Latina immigrants want to have anchor babies for “birthright citizenship entitlements.” Hence, Latina immigrants should be reproductively controlled in order to prevent usage of the US’s welfare state if Bush would not consider overturning the 14th Amendment for his guest worker program. Extremist, anti-immigrant FAIR— who has the GOP in their back pockets for immigration policy—argues that fertile Latinas will create an out-of-control growing population that will overutilize schools, social security, other public benefits, and the environment.
Conservative secularist and Manhattan Institute columnist Heather Mac Donald says bluntly in her research, “It’s the fertility surge among unwed Hispanics that should worry policymakers.” She ignores the fact that fertility is measured by how many children a woman has by 40 years old, yet white women are more likely than Latinas to continue to have children beyond that age. Besides her misunderstanding of fertility statistics, the crux of her argument is that Hispanic families—and Hispanic girls in particular—have poor family values. In her view, they are more willing to engage in sex before marriage, bear children out of wedlock, and even develop incestuous relationships with male family members. The implication of her argument is that Hispanics are projected to be the majority and, as the majority, will possibly turn American premium family values into foreign, underclass and deficient ones.
Throughout history, government officials have attempted to control Latinas’ sexuality and reproductive choices to evoke a fear of uncontrolled population growth and European-American cultural dissolution. This historical demonization—especially from the Right—continues today with the debates around the 14th Amendment. It is true that there is a prediction of a demographic shift that may put whites into the minority. Because of such, we need to have serious discussions on educating a group whose first and household language may be something other than English or how our current immigration policies fail businesses and people. Such discussions, though, are focused on the welfare of immigrants, children and society—and are not directed at a mythologized, yet-to-be-seen future or women’s reproductive choices. Birth control testing, “anchor babies,” Latino demographic majority, and deficient Hispanic sexual values were constituted to invoke a public fear of Latinas’ wombs, when in fact the real fear is that whites will not be the majority and might lose their privileges as the majority. We should not be questioning any woman’s reproductive choices. Latinas’ bodies are not battlegrounds, and their wombs are not weapons of mass destruction.
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