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Report: Most undocumented parents arrived long before having kids

Babies nap in a Missouri hospital nursery, February 2010
Babies nap in a Missouri hospital nursery, February 2010
Photo by David Herholz/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An interesting nugget buried inside a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center is relevant to the current debate over birthright citizenship brewing in Congress and state legislatures.

The report, which provides a snapshot of the current undocumented population in this country, finds that 91 percent of the undocumented parents who had babies in the United States over a one-year period ending last March had already been here several years.

Some of the details:

The Pew Hispanic Center analysis also examined year-of-arrival patterns for unauthorized immigrant parents of babies born from March 2009 to March 2010, to see how long the parents had been in the United States before their children were born. If year of arrival was available for both parents, the analysis used the most recently arrived parent.

According to the analysis, 9% of these unauthorized immigrants who had babies in 2009-2010 had arrived in the U.S. in 2008 or later. An additional 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and the remaining 61% arrived in the United States before 2004.

Several conservative legislators have introduced bills at the state and federal level in the past month in hopes of ending the longstanding practice of granting automatic citizenship to everyone born on U.S. soil, specifically the children of undocumented immigrants.

There is a long-held belief among some immigration restriction advocates that people come to the United States to have U.S. citizen children on purpose, so-called "anchor babies." Here's what Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina (where a state bill challenging birthright citizenship was recently introduced) said during a Fox News interview last year. His statement as it appeared in Politico:

“People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It's called "drop and leave." To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child's automatically an American citizen. That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”

There have been media reports of a niche "birth tourism" industry that markets to the wealthy abroad, but even some pro-restriction advocates disagree with the notion that having American-born children helps drive illegal immigration. Here's what Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian told the National Review last month:
Citizenship for children of illegals is a problem only because the illegals are here. It’s a symptom, not the problem itself.

The Pew report, released earlier this week, also found that the overall number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has not grown since last year's estimate, holding steady at around 11.2 million, a decline from a peak of 12 million in 2007. The number of unauthorized workers, about 8 million or 5.2 percent of the labor force, is also about the same as last year.

The annual number of children born to at least one undocumented parent has also remained steady at around 350,000, representing 8 percent of all U.S. births.

According to the report, the drop in the undocumented population from its 2007 peak seems mainly due to fewer arrivals from Mexico, though there is no evidence of more people returning there to live.