'Anchor Baby' Phrase Has Controversial History

Examining the nickname the media uses to describe a proposed law in Arizona.

ByABC News
July 1, 2010, 3:45 PM

July 3, 2010— -- It has been dubbed by the news media as the Arizona "anchor baby" bill, referring to U.S-born children of illegal immigrants used to 'anchor' the parents in the country.

State Sen. Russell Pearce and Rep. John Kavanagh, both Republicans, intend to formally introduce the bill when the state legislature reconvenes in January. If passed, the law would directly challenge the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause, reversing a standing interpretation that grants the citizenship to all people born on U.S. soil.

When the proposal hit the national stage, a stream of news coverage followed. And the term "anchor baby" appeared in stories by TIME, The Arizona Republic, on the major cable news networks, local television news networks and in a column in The Washington Post.

Some politicians, including former Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.), have also used the term. During a September 2008 speech, he advocated fixing the "anchor baby situation."

Pearce, who sponsored Arizona's controversial immigration bill known as SB1070, told the Arizona Republic last month that, "the 'anchor baby' thing needs to be fixed ... Anchor babies are an unconstitutional declaration of citizenship to those born of non-Americans. It's wrong, and it's immoral."

As for Kavanagh, although he told ABCNews.com that 'anchor baby' is an accurate term, he also said that he himself doesn't use it.

But the phrase is angering some groups, including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

"The coverage the press provides can help or it can hinder," the NAHJ said in a release earlier this week. "Using terms like 'illegal alien,' 'illegals' as a noun, and 'anchor babies' is dehumanizing and by their bias and loaded nature, eliminate any semblance of fairness when covering the [immigration] debate."

There has been a history of controversy over the term.

LaDawn Haglund, assistant professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University, speculated that "the term 'anchor baby' probably came from the term 'anchor children,' which was used in reference to children of Vietnamese [immigrants] after the Vietnam war."

In 2007, former San Diego, Calif. North County Times columnist Raoul Contreras criticized the paper's decision to use the term 'anchor babies:' "Today's North County Times readers can't find an article that uses the infamous N-word, the Q-word (queer) or words like 'homo' for homosexual," he wrote in his commentary. "What they find is the use of the words 'anchor babies' in letters or opinion pieces."

And in August of 2006, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn received two complaints from readers after he called for the arrest and deportation of a woman holding sanctuary in a Chicago church. Zorn referred to her child as an "anchor baby." Zorn argued that the term had appeared in newspaper stories since 1997 "usually softened by quotations as in my column." He said in a subsequent column that he regretted his use of the phrase and promised not to use it again.