The offensive and disparaging slur "anchor baby" -- a myth anti-immigrant groups are forever warning about -- has never been used as a neutral term. It's a politically charged, derogatory slur favored by those who would delegitimize children born in the United States to non-citizen parents. So when the American Heritage Dictionary released its fifth edition with no indication of the term's true meaning, the editors were harshly criticized for treating the term "as some sort of universal description of children who acquire citizenship at birth."
A few days later, the dictionary's editors admitted their mistake and revised the term's definition to warn of its vulgarity. Discussing the fact that the term is not only offensive but misleading as well, Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, said:
This is something that was reiterated by Immigration Impact and this is where certain wording really helps to show that something hinges upon a belief system. Personally, this was not a reaction that we have to fix it because people are angry. We fixed it because we were wrong. And I, as the executive editor, acknowledge the fact that this was an error and I take responsibility for that. And that is also why I am quick to fix it because I believe it needs to be fixed and I stand behind that.
Now Fox News, which has used "anchor baby" as a legitimate term in the past, seems to be helping anti-immigrant groups wage a behind-the-scenes war on the American Heritage Dictionary.
Following the dictionary's revision, FoxNews.com gave a platform to Bob Dane, a spokesman from designated hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform, to rail against the change. In a December 9 op-ed, Dane accused Heritage of "capitulat[ing] to a small, but vocal, special interest group that is trying to manipulate the political, legal, cultural and linguistic landscape on behalf of illegal aliens."
Dane further wrote: "The offensive aspect of 'anchor baby' isn't the term itself, but the practice of having children on U.S. soil for the sheer purpose of gaming the system." He then went on to argue that "it's ok to" use the equally offensive term "illegal alien" -- in fact, the Associated Press has instructed journalists not to use it.
Moreover, in an article headlined, "Revised Definition of 'Anchor Baby' Part of Leftist Agenda, Critics Say," FoxNews.com quoted several anti-immigrant groups railing against the change, including Dane:
"That's a political statement and it's not even accurate," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "[An anchor baby] is a child born to an illegal immigrant."
Krikorian said the revised definition makes a political statement and is much more than neutral, "just the facts" reference material.
"It's a sign of real provincialism," he said. "I understand why people don't like the term, but I know lots of people who use it in a non-disparaging fashion. There really isn't a shorthand way of describing people like this, and there does need to be because it an important source of political debate: Should the children born to illegal immigrants get automatic citizenship?"
Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based organization that seeks to end illegal immigration, said the revised definition panders to a small but vocal group of critics who are "manipulating the political, cultural and now linguistic landscape" of the United States.
"Publishing word definitions to fit politically correct molds surrenders the language to drive an agenda," Dane told FoxNews.com. "This dictionary becomes a textbook for the open borders lobby."
Asked if the term has a place in the dictionary, Dane replied: "Yes, it's a descriptive term, but what's offensive about 'anchor baby' isn't the term, but the practice of having a baby on our soil to game the system."
FoxNews.com also quoted William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. Gheen, a part of the American nativist movement with ties to white supremacist groups, has been repeatedly accused of bigotry and fearmongering. Fox quoted him as saying:
"The future of the United States is a place where you cannot speak your mind freely or engage in any terms or comments deemed inappropriate by the thought police. ... What's really offensive is how these pro-illegal immigrant groups are telling people how they can talk."
The N-word is just as offensive and inappropriate and that fact has been rightly noted. So is Gheen suggesting that dictionaries make no reference to the word's racist etymology? In the late '90s, Merriam-Webster was forced to revise its definition of the N-word after defining it as simply "a black person ... usually taken to be offensive." I sincerely hope Gheen isn't advocating going after the "thought police" every time the offensive nature of a word is exposed.