Babies born to illegal immigrants in Nevada and rest of U.S. can provide path to government aid Reno Gazette-Journal: PLAN Executive Director Bob Fulkerson says the term "anchor babies" unfairly characterizes the children of immigrants. Oct. 19, 2008 By Frank X. Mullen Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org About 10 percent of Nevada's welfare payments go to the American-born children of illegal immigrants or to the children of legal immigrants who have been in the country less than five years, Reno Gazette-Journal research shows. One way that illegal immigrants have access to welfare funds is through assistance paid to their U.S.-born children, who are automatically U.S. citizens and thus qualify for welfare if the children's household is poor enough. The parents of illegal immigrant children aren't eligible for public assistance, and the newspaper found no evidence they are fraudulently signing up for benefits in Nevada. But records at the Nevada Division of Welfare and Support Services show that of 100,018 welfare cases of Temporary Aid for Needy Families in the state in the last fiscal year, 9,957 or 9.96 percent were the minor children of illegal immigrants or the children of legal immigrants who have been t he country less than five years. Even though the state of Nevada has the data in its computers, it has no idea how many of those American-born children of illegal immigrants are born in Nevada each year despite the fact most of those births are paid for by Emergency Medicaid. In response to inquiries by the newspaper, lawmakers and the governor's office, the state Health and Human Services officials said they are doing a "hand count" of Emergency Medicaid paperwork to determine the number of children whose births were covered by the program. In many other states, data about births covered by Emergency Medicaid are available with a few key strokes. Based on the experience of other states, the Reno Gazette-Journal conservatively estimates that at least 3,600 (or 9 percent) of the state's 40,000 births in 2007 were the children of illegal immigrants. Children whose births are covered by Emergency Medicaid are automatically eligible for the full Medicaid program, welfare, food stamps and other health benefits. There are no reliable figures for how much that costs the social services system. Their parents remain ineligible for benefits, no matter what their child's legal status. All those children are citizens by birthright, a practice that goes back to the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868. Some lawmakers want to see that interpretation change. "It's a federal issue, obviously, but it makes no sense that just because someone is born here they are automatically a citizen," said Assemblyman Tyrus Cobb, R-Reno. "We need to change the law so that only citizens can give birth to citizens. The 14th Amendment was never meant to cover people on vacation in the country or illegal immigrants or the happenstance of being born on American soil." Anna and Miguel, illegal immigrants who live in Reno, had a baby three months ago. The moment the baby was born he was an American citizen. Some opponents of illegal immigration call such children "anchor babies," a pejorative term that implies the child will serve as an "anchor" for his or her illegal immigrant parents, preventing the parents' deportations and acting as a pathway to citizenship for the whole family. But that's a myth. "Anchor baby" a misnomer There's no law, regulation or judicial practice that allows exemptions to deportation for illegal immigrants who have children in the United States. The parents, and their American-born children, can and have been deported regardless of a child's birthplace. Some lawyers are challenging those precedents in immigration court by arguing that the rights of American-born children are violated if one or both parents are deported. An American-born child can petition for his or her foreign-born parents' citizenship, but only after turning 21, a time-frame that would require great planning and patience for any parent seeking legal immigration status in the U.S., immigration rights advocates argue. Anna and Miguel -- who came to the U.S. separately, met in Reno and married last year -- said they left Mexico for the U.S. to work, not to raise a family here. Anna, who has relatives in Reno, overstayed a tourist visa eight years ago. Miguel said he illegally crossed the border near Tijuana seven years ago. Their son Luis was born in a Washoe County hospital. His birth was covered by Emergency Medicaid. As a citizen, Luis is eligible for Medicaid and other social services, but Miguel said his family hasn't taken advantage of those. "I am not here to beg," said Miguel, who said he works for a landscaper. "I have a job and I can provide for my own family." Anna said she cleans houses and has never taken any government assistance. She said she didn't realize that Emergency Medicaid is government assistance, part of a safety net for the poorest Americans that goes back to the Lyndon Johnson administration in the 1960s. "The hospital people filled out our forms after Luis was born and they said we didn't have to pay. I would pay (in installments) if I knew what (Medicaid) was. "» I don't want charity." She said she is still paying off a bill for prenatal care and well baby care at a local clinic. "We pay $15 a month and it will take time to pay the bills," she said. "But we will pay what we owe." Deportation splits families Richard Hobbs of Reno, a retired Army officer and business executive, said even if American-born children don't serve as a legal "anchor" for their immigrant parents, they still add to society's burdens and help link illegal immigrant parents to the United States. "Even if there's no law keeping the parents here, the child is a citizen and a judge might not deport the parents as a matter of compassion," Hobbs said. "If there were just a few of these children it wouldn't matter, but there are hundreds of thousands of them." Estimates of the number of such children range from 160,000 to 500,000 births per year nationally, depending on the group doing the estimates. When parents are deported, the American-born children are either deported with them or left behind to stay with relatives, according to news reports on deportations and interviews with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency officials. "I wish I was an anchor for my father, but that wasn't the case," said Maria Chavarin of Reno, whose father was deported 13 years ago. Chavarin, her mother and her two sisters were left in Reno. "I was a junior in high school and (his deportation) tore us apart," Chavarin said. "He was trying to get legal, but when he filed the papers the government saw he had been deported years before and had come back. They picked him up and he's in Mexico. He can't come back for 20 years (after his deportation)." She said her father had been in the country 18 years at the time and that she and her sisters were born here. "It was fortunate that I and my sisters were older and could work," she said. "If we were all young children I don't know how my mother could have made it." Chavarin's voice quivers when she talks about her father and how she misses his advice. In her job as a physician's assistant at the HAWC clinic she sometimes meets a family whose bread winner has been deported and the family is suffering. Most of the clerks are Hispanic and most of the patients, in the dental and medical clinic, are Hispanic. "It leaves a scar," she said. "I don't know why some people don't see immigrants as people like themselves. ... The term anchor babies is racist. It demeans Americans whose parents weren't born here." Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, agreed the term denigrates the children of immigrants. He said those children, like the offspring of immigrants before them, grow up to be professionals, craftsmen and workers who make America strong. Some of those children, he said, are serving in war zones while their parents back home still fear deportation. "The term anchor baby dehumanizes little babies, who are defenseless," he said. "Those who use it are referring to babies born to Latino parents, whether here legally or illegally, and imply that these brown babies are not as worthy of our love or as white babies." The term, he said, is an example of how "anti-immigrant has become code for anti-Latino or anti-Mexican."