The terms “anchor baby” and “jackpot baby” are used pejoratively in the United States to refer to the children of undocumented immigrants. Since all people born in the United States are automatically offered citizenship, except for the children of diplomats, some people fear that anchor babies are used to ensure citizenship for their parents and family members. Despite the fact that this is not, in fact, the case, the term is often thrown around at anti-immigration rallies, as part of a larger anti-immigration rhetoric.
In fact, if the parents of an anchor baby are illegal immigrants, they are not guaranteed the right to citizenship merely because they have children on American soil. They are at risk of deportation, although many judges will not deport the parents of a young child because they do not want to split up a family. However, when the anchor baby reaches adulthood, his or her parents may be deported if they are unsuccessful at applying for citizenship.
After the age of 21, an anchor baby could apply to sponsor his or her parents in a citizenship application. As a minor, however, the child has no real ability to “anchor” parents to American soil, despite beliefs to the contrary. While it is true that many parents make a deliberate effort to have children in the United States in the hopes of offering them a better life, these parents are often aware that the child is not always a ticket to citizenship.
Life as an anchor baby can also be very difficult. Many such children are deeply steeped in American culture, and they have no real connection to the homeland of their parents. They may not have much of an opportunity to visit their parents' home, because the parents may be concerned about being stopped at the American border and denied entrance. While these children are routinely told to “go home,” they respond that they are in fact already home, by right of birth and the law.
The law that guarantees citizenship to American-born children is sometimes called the Citizenship Clause, and it is found in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Amendment was included to ensure that the descendants of former slaves would be considered full American citizens, and it seemed sensible to extend that right to other American-born children as well. Despite extensive lobbying by people opposed to the 14th Amendment, it is unlikely to be struck down, as amendments are notoriously difficult to remove from the American Constitution. This difficulty is built in by design, to ensure that changing political climates and moods do not have a permanent impact on American life without a substantial amount of effort from Congress.