The challenge of illegal immigration is a complex and difficult issue threatening to tear the fabric of our nation apart. Solving this problem requires thoughtful and respectful discussion of the issue on all sides, especially from our elected leaders. Offensive and mean-spirited comments, terms and legislation only make a solution harder and longer to accomplish. A few days ago, I saw a thread on Madville Times in which State Representative Manny Steele (Republican) referred to babies born to non-US citizens or non-permanent residents as ?anchor babies.? In reaction, an Iowa-based Hispanic Republican group called the term offensive and asked for Steele?s resignation.
Without counting to 10, I responded in support of calling for his resignation and pledged to write a post here on the War College. After counting to 10, I thought maybe Steele was taken out of context or after he was informed of the offensive connotations would no longer use the term (plus I had more pressing personal and business matters) so I delayed posting. Then, I read in today?s Argus Leader than Steele not only didn?t apologize but reaffirmed the statement as ?accurate and not offensive.?
Today, I?ve counted to 1,000 before writing this. Manny Steele is my State Representative and I have voted for him. In good conscience, I just can?t sit by and not respond to this offensive description of innocent newborn babies by one who has gotten my vote. If I won’t admonish my own Representative, how can I admonish another’s?
While I don?t want this thread to be about the merits of HB1199 (a bill to define which babies born in the US qualify for citizenship) or its practicality (i.e. how are we going to confirm one of the parents are actually US citizens? Besides looking at their citizenship papers, do we have to do DNA testing to insure the father on the birth certificate is really the father?), I would like to give a bit of background.
Nearly all Americans acknowledge we have a problem with illegal immigration and want a solution. After securing the border, there are multiple comprehensive federal solutions proposed by varying groups and political philosophies for which consensus has not been reached. In frustration because of this lack of consensus/action plus the failure of the federal government to adequately enforce current federal law, states have begun to embark on efforts to counter-act the failure of the federal government, Congress, and White House to deal with the problem.
One of these state-initiated efforts is to define natural born citizenship more narrowly. In particular, because the federal government and public policy has been reluctant to deport families which include a natural-born US citizen (i.e. a baby born to parents in the US illegally), states have begun to propose laws which would deny citizenship to babies born to parents in the non-US citizens not here as permanent aliens.
Again, I don?t want this thread to be about the merits of the legislation, whether individual State?s or even Congress have the authority to make such a determination, the burden these illegals and their children may be on the taxpayer and society, or whether the Constitution automatically grants citizenship to anyone born in the US regardless of the status of the parents making these State efforts futilely unconstitutional.
This thread is about whether it is appropriate to refer to such babies as ?anchor babies? and whether the unapologetic use of the term warrants censure or even a demand for Manny Steele?s resignation.
In the best light, the term ?anchor babies? is used to describe a baby born to non-US citizens combined with the assertion this baby effectively prevents the deportation of illegal immigrants and gives the entire family an ?anchor? to live in the US in contradiction to deportation laws. In the worst light, the term ?anchor babies? asserts that the parents? intent to have the child was to create this anchor. Steele seems to hold to a middle ground as he claims the parents come to US to have their baby here so they will be US citizens.
Several months ago, there was a debate on the War College about a state representative in Tennessee who used this term among others which so offended me, I ended up sending a donation to local church to support pre-natal medical services to such babies and wrote a Letter to the Editor in opposition to the legislation as I found it essentially mean-spirited and overtly racist.
But, I digress. Let me get back to the essence of the term ?anchor babies? in context of this discussion. I acknowledge the immigration problem is complex and a multitude of proposals should be discussed and many of them will impact children. And, some of the solutions will require hard choices which tug at our heart strings. In and of themselves, we need to be careful not to mischaracterize the intent nor the interior heart of the proponents. At the same time, it is wholly appropriate to expect the terms used by our elected leaders to acknowledge the God-given dignity of the people involved, especially those who have done nothing other than being born.
Granted, we could all agree the the term is not meant in the context of the ?worst light? (the parents? intent to have the child is to provide an anchor to live in the United States) but agree the context is in the ?best light? (effective thwarting of our deportation laws) because it is ?accurate.? Even so, “anchor” is not meant like how my wife or faith is my anchor. But, how my sin is an anchor on my soul or my chubbiness is an anchor on my mobility/health. Just as I want to cut off my sin or weight, this bill openly intends to cut off citizenship to these particular babies from the land of their birth, a substantive representation of one?s inalienable dignity as a person.
We could also agree to use the term ?wetback? to describe illegal immigrants who entered the nation by swimming across a river or ?coon? to describe black people being tracked by the law. Such an agreement would also make it appropriate to call the descendents of ?wetbacks and coons? as ?wetback or coon babies.? Since it is ok to use ?accurate? terms to describe these descendents, why don?t we go a step further and call children of convicts ?convict babies? and children of alcoholics ?alcoholic babies? for though no fault of the children of convicts and alcoholics? It too is accurate.
When using ?anchor babies,? we can further agree to ignore there are millions of our current citizens who were born to illegal immigrants or are their descendents without regard to whether it offends them.
While most of us agree, the term ?wetback? and ?coon? are offensive regardless of their ?accuracy? and shouldn?t be used, I find ?anchor baby? at least as offensive as these terms. A ?wetback? came across the border knowing it was illegal just as a fugitive slave knew they were the ?property? of the slaveholder. Just remember in this case we are talking about babies who have done nothing more than being born (which is a God-given right).
Yes, parental obligations (and even parental privileges) sometimes feel like anchors, especially as our children age and create burdens and problems in our life. I don?t care if the child is wanted, unwanted, healthy or unhealthy, a baby is always a gift to be cherished and loved regardless if the parents are unfit and unable to love their child, don?t want the child, or are ?wetbacks.? In my mind, the only context for ?accurate and not offensive? use of ?anchor baby? is when a parent says the baby anchors them to their spouse and home as it speaks to the baby?s dignity and value. Anything else is not only wholly inappropriate but offensive.
If Manny Steele fails to recognize how offensive this term is regardless of how ?accurate? he might find it, my final comment is our party needs to express its outrage. Appropriately, the US House Republican leadership pushed a Congressmen out of office for wholly inappropriate private behavior. Manny Steele?s words and insistence it is ?accurate and not offensive? is public behavior. The South Dakota Republican House Caucus has a huge majority. While some might claim this large majority doesn?t demand strict accountability, I disagree. I don?t care the Democrats in the Legislature failed to expel a Senator for inappropriate sexual contact with a legislative employee or a US Senator referred to Republicans as ?Taliban.? Democrats never have set my standards.
Even if Manny Steele doesn?t have the decency to acknowledge the offensiveness of this term, it might be unrealistic to for the Republican Leadership to demand him to resign his office for intransigent offensive language for being offensive is a Constitutional right, even for Legislators. But, I hope they will publicly or privately admonish him for this term. Additionally, I hope groups who might have in the past supported him, especially those concerned with the born and unborn babies, reconsider their support.
Sidenote: I?m pleased to see State Representative Steven Hickey apologized for calling business owners who operate a business he finds unacceptable as vultures. One can disagree without being derogatory and I?m impressed he acknowledged a need to be civil. State Representative Steele needs to show the same contrition and resolve to speak better, especially about beautiful babies.
P.S. I used terms I find offensive. I know just reading them causes offense for they make me recoil. I especially apologize to Blacks and Hispanics for using these derogatory slurs to make my point. I contemplated using other words, like “anchor baby,” which on the surface are not so obviously offensive but that would have required some explanation of why they are offensive. I’m confident nobody needs an explanation of the offensiveness of “wetback” and “coon.” If you find the term ?anchor baby? offensive but less offensive than the words I used, I understand. Agreeing on degree of offensiveness is not important to me as, upon reflection, I really recoil at the use of all these words but especially ?coon.?