CNN Cites Discredited Anti-Immigrant Group To Stoke Fears About Undocumented Immigrants Exploiting Birthright Citizenship

CNN's Alisyn Camerota legitimized presidential candidate Donald Trump's immigration policy plan to end birthright citizenship by citing a noted anti-immigrant organization, the Center For Immigration Studies (CIS), to claim that 36,000 undocumented immigrant women come to the U.S. specifically to give birth and establish citizenship for their babies. CIS has admitted that its estimate of how many women visit the U.S. to give birth lacks certainty, immigration experts agree there is no evidence to support that number, and no immigration-based incentive exists for undocumented immigrants to give birth in the U.S. since the mother wouldn't become a citizen until two or three decades later.

Trump Releases Immigration Position Paper Focused On Repealing The Fourteenth Amendment To End Birthright Citizenship

AP: Trump's Immigration Plan Would Deny Citizenship To Babies Of Undocumented Immigrants Born In The U.S. Donald Trump's newly released immigration plan calls for Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and seeks an end birthright citizenship, as the Associated Press explained:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to deny citizenship to the babies of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally as part of an immigration plan that emphasizes border security and deportation for millions.

He would also rescind Obama administration executive orders on immigration.

Trump described his expanded vision of how to secure American borders during a wide-ranging interview Sunday on NBC's “Meet The Press,” saying that he would push to end the constitutionally protected citizenship rights of children of any family living illegally inside the U.S.

“They have to go,” Trump said, adding: “What they're doing, they're having a baby. And then all of a sudden, nobody knows ... the baby's here.”

Native-born children of immigrants -- even those living illegally in the U.S. -- have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution in 1868. [Associated Press, 8/17/, accessed 8/19/15]

CNN Legitimizes Trump's Immigration Plan By Citing Anti-Immigrant Group's Statistic To Claim Birth Tourism “Is An Issue That Needs To Be Dealt With”

CNN's Camerota Cites Center For Immigration Studies To Claim 36,000 Foreign Women Come To The U.S. “Specifically Just To Have Babies” Who Will Be American Citizens. On the August 19 edition of CNN's New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asserted that birth tourism “is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” and cited statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies to claim “36,000 birth tourists” immigrate to the U.S. “specifically just to have babies ... in order to establish citizenship for that baby”:

CAMEROTA: Donald Trump doubling down on getting rid of birthright citizenship. Six other GOP presidential hopefuls also want to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, right to citizenship that is extended to any baby born on American soil regardless of parents' status. So, is this possible to repeal?


Anchor babies - that's the term used by people generally who are against immigrants coming here and having babies. Let me show you the numbers, because this is instructive, it's interesting. About 36,000 birth tourists -- that's another term used in this -- have children in the U.S.. And birth tourists means women who come here specifically just to have babies. So, come here for a week, a month, just to have babies in order to establish citizenship for that baby. Then there's about 340,000 babies a year born to undocumented immigrants. That's about 9 percent of the babies born. So, these are real numbers. I mean, this is an issue that needs to be dealt with one way or another. [CNN, New Day8/19/15]

Center For Immigration Studies Admits Its Estimate Of 36,000 Women Coming To U.S. Annually To Give Birth Lacks "Certainty" 

Center For Immigration Studies: Not Entirely Sure About Claim Of 36,000 Pregnant Foreigners Visiting Yearly. The Center for Immigration Studies wrote in April: “We cannot say with a great deal of certainty how many people are ... visiting the country to have their children,” but then declared that “about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the United States in the 12 months before July 1, 2012, but were no longer in the country”:

We cannot say with a great deal of certainty how many people are taking advantage of America's citizenship laws by visiting the country to have their children.


A third way to possibly estimate the prevalence of birth tourism is to combine administrative data and Census Bureau data. The American Community Survey (ACS), collected annually by the Bureau asks women if they had a child in the prior 12 months. The survey is designed to reflect the U.S. population as of July 1 of the year the survey was taken, so the survey is recording the number of women living in the country at mid-year who had a child in last half of the prior year and the first half of the year of the survey. In the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, the CDC reports 898,975 births to foreign-born mothers.4 The public-use file of the 2012 ACS shows that there were 863,407 foreign-born women who indicated that they had a child in the prior 12 months. The difference between these two numbers is 35,568 and implies that about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the United States in the 12 months before July 1, 2012, but were no longer in the country. While there are a number of important caveats about this number, it provides some idea of the possible number of babies born to birth tourist mothers.5 But it must be emphasized that these numbers are only an estimate based on the very limited data available. [Center for Immigration Studies, 8/28/15]

Government Data Does Not Explain Reason When A Non-Resident Woman Gives Birth In U.S. 

American Immigration Council: Government Does Not Track Citizenship Status Or Reasons Non-Resident Mothers Are In The Country At The Time Of Birth. According to the American Immigration Council, the U.S.“government does not track the reasons non-resident mothers are in the United States at the time of birth,” nor does it track their citizenship status:

Of the 4.2 million live births in the United States in 2006, the most recent data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics, only 7,670 were children born to mothers who said they do not live here.

Some of those mothers could be “baby tourists,” experts say, but many could be foreign college students, diplomatic staff, or vacationers. The government does not track the reasons non-resident mothers are in the United States at the time of the birth or their citizenship. [American Immigration Council, 4/8/11]

Immigration Experts Agree “There Is No Evidence” Undocumented Immigrants Come To The U.S. Just To Give Birth

American Immigration Council: “There's No Evidence That Birth Tourism Is A Widespread Problem.” The American Immigration Council explained in 2011, “There's no evidence that birth tourism is a widespread problem,” but “surveys of undocumented workers have made indelibly clear that they don't come here to have 'anchor babies,'... they come here for jobs”:

Indeed, as the story notes, the “anchor baby” problem is a statistical pimple:

“There's no evidence that birth tourism is a widespread problem,” said Michele Waslin, a senior policy analyst with the Immigration Policy Center. “There are ways to dealing with that issue without such sweeping changes. This is like using a sledgehammer, not a scalpel.”


Surveys of undocumented workers have made indelibly clear that they don't come here to have “anchor babies,” or to get our free health care, or any of the other fantasies harbored by nativists: they come here for jobs. [American Immigration Council, 4/8/11] 

PolitiFact: “Data Suggests That The Motivator For Illegal Immigrants Is The Search For Work And A Better Economic Standing Over The Long Term, Not Quickie Citizenship For U.S.-Born Babies.” In 2010, PolitiFact explained that "[i]mmigration data and surveys don't provide much support for ... [the] notion that many women are illegally crossing the border in large numbers to have children, then leaving." PolitiFact wrote that in reality, “The data suggests that the motivator for illegal immigrants is the search for work and a better economic standing over the long term, not quickie citizenship for U.S.-born babies”:

Immigration data and surveys don't provide much support for Graham's notion that many women are illegally crossing the border in large numbers to have children, then leaving.


Undoubtedly, citizenship plays some role in the decisions by undocumented immigrants to come to the U.S. After all, they have made a decision to make their future in the United States rather than in their home country, and part of building a better life in the U.S. is having citizenship for their children. But on Fox, Graham termed the practice “drop and leave,” which suggests that illegal immigrants are coming here for the primary purpose of having babies with citizenship, then rushing home to wherever they came from.

Graham's comments on this are misleading. While that does appear to be happening with affluent “birth tourists,” it's important to understand that those affluent “birth tourists” are not the ones illegally crossing the Rio Grande or the Sonoran desert. They are coming here with the proper legal papers and giving birth. Thus, whatever public policy challenges arise from “birth tourism” are separate and distinct from the public policy challenges of illegal immigration -- which is not at all the impression that Graham gave in his Fox appearance.


It's true that many illegal immigrants are having children in the U.S. However, we are not convinced that “drop and leave” is a phenomenon. The data suggests that the motivator for illegal immigrants is the search for work and a better economic standing over the long term, not quickie citizenship for U.S.-born babies. Graham appears to be conflating two things -- a pattern of wealthy foreigners engaging in “birth tourism” using legal visas, and illegal immigration of poorer people from Mexico. In our view, failing to make the distinction exaggerates the alleged problem and uses inflammatory rhetoric to obscure legitimate policy questions. On balance, we rate his comment Half True. [PolitiFact, 8/6/10]

Associated Press: “Immigration Experts Say It's Extraordinarily Rare For Immigrants To Come To The U.S. Just So They Can Have Babies.” In a 2010 article, the Associated Press reported that “immigration experts say it's extraordinarily rare for immigrants to come to the U.S. just so they can have babies and get citizenship. In most cases, they come to the U.S. for economic reasons and better hospitals, and end up staying and raising families.” [Associated Press, 9/3/10]

There Is No Immigration-Based Incentive For Non-Citizen Parents To Give Birth In The U.S.

Southern Poverty Law Center: “Immigration Judges Will Not Keep Immigrant Parents In The United States Just Because Their Children Are U.S. Citizens.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) pointed out that the process for non-citizen parents of U.S.-born children to become American citizens “is long and difficult,” and the federal government still deports foreign-born parents whose children have been born in the U.S.:

Many people also accuse immigrants of having “anchor babies”--children who allow the whole family to stay. According to the U.S. Constitution, a child born on U.S. soil is automatically an American citizen. That is true. But immigration judges will not keep immigrant parents in the United States just because their children are U.S. citizens. In 2013, the federal government deported about 72,410 foreign-born parents whose children had been born here. These children must wait until they are 21 before they can petition to allow their parents to join them in the United States. That process is long and difficult. In reality, there is no such thing as an “anchor baby.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2011]

American Immigration Council: It Could Take 31 Years For Non-Citizen Parents Of U.S.-Born Children To Gain Citizenship. The American Immigration Council explained in 2011 that “in most cases” it would take “a total of 31 years” for non-citizen parents to gain citizenship, and “undocumented immigrants do not come to the U.S. to give birth as part of a 31-year plan”:

U.S.-born children cannot petition for legal status for their parents until they turn 21 years old.  In most cases, if the petition is granted the parents would still have to leave the U.S. and then be barred from re-entering for at least 10 years.  That's a total of 31 years.  Undocumented immigrants do not come to the U.S. to give birth as part of a 31-year plan. [American Immigration Council, 1/4/11]

Center For American Progress: “There Is No Immigration-Based, Self-Interested Incentive For Immigrants To Have Babies In The United States.” The Center For American Progress explained, “There is no immigration-based, self-interested incentive for immigrants to have babies in the United States” because “no immigration benefit can accrue to the parent of a child born on U.S. soil for at least 21 years, and more typically, 31 years”:

The ugly term “anchor baby” derives from a fundamental fiction. There is no immigration-based self-interested incentive for immigrants to have babies in the United States. No immigration benefit can accrue to the parent of a child born on U.S. soil for at least 21 years, and more typically 31 years. A child has to turn 21 before he or she can sponsor anyone for permanent residence. But the parent will, in most cases, have to live outside the country for a 10-year period before becoming a permanent resident because of their unlawful status. [Center For American Progress, August 2010]

The Center for Immigration Studies Is A Noted Anti-Immigrant Organization

SPLC:  Center For Immigration Studies “Stand[s] At The Nexis Of The American Nativist Movement.” According to an SPLC publication on “The Nativist Lobby,” the Center For Immigration Studies “stand[s] at the nexis of the American nativist movement.” The piece continues:

CIS was conceived by Tanton and began life as a program of FAIR. CIS presents itself as a scholarly think tank that produces serious immigration studies meant to serve “the broad national interest.” But the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked, and it has frequently manipulated data to achieve the results it seeks. Its executive director last fall posted an item on the conservative National Review Online website about Washington Mutual, a bank that had earlier issued a press release about its inclusion on a list of “Business Diversity Elites” compiled by Hispanic Business magazine. Over a copy of the bank's press release, the CIS leader posted a headline -- “Cause and Effect?” -- that suggested a link between the bank's opening its ranks to Latinos and its subsequent collapse. [Southern Poverty Law Center, February 2009]

The Daily Beast: “The Center For Immigration Studies [Is] The Immigration False-Fact Think Tank.  The Daily Beast has explained that CIS is a discredited “immigration false-fact think tank” whose leader, Mark Krikorian, has ties to extremists:

Krikorian, the SPLC claims, has been known to “hobnob with extremists.” According to the SPLC, Krikorian accepted an invitation to speak alongside known Holocaust denier Nick Griffin and so-called “racial realist” Jared Taylor at the Michigan State chapter of Young Americans for Freedom in 2007, despite the group having recently made news for orchestrating such offensive events as “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” a “Koran Desecration” competition, and covering the campus in “Gays Spread AIDS fliers.”

Despite affiliations like these, the SPLC argues that CIS has managed to project the image of a reliable source for immigration research while pumping out “study after study aimed at highlighting immigration's negative effects.” One example of this is “Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon,” a 2008 CIS report which concluded, “If small-time con artists and Third-World gold-diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can do (and have done) the same.” [The Daily Beast, 5/14/15]