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When words get in the way

Caricature of SteveGov. Jeb Bush is one of the more moderate GOP presidential contenders on immigration reform.  So it I was disappointed this week when he surprisingly used a pejorative term to describe a key aspect of the debate.

Even those Republican candidates who urge harsh solutions to illegal immigration use the preferred term “birthright citizenship.”  It’s an accurate metonymy for the 14th amendment to the Constitution granting citizenship to persons born in the United States.

Opponents of this protection, including frontrunner Donald Trump, spout  “anchor baby” for the practice of pregnant women who come to the U.S. to give birth thus assuring American citizenship for their child.  It’s not surprising that Trump would use a term that some consider offensive. He has a record of eschewing political correctness when stating his opinions.

But it’s disappointing to hear Bush use anchor babies when arguing for new measures to combat illegal immigration. He is on record as supporting the amendment’s constitutional protection but opposes what he terms the “abuse” of the right by those who are taking advantage of the law. There is a widespread belief that birthright citizenship gives the parents of such children a fast track to citizenship, too, hence the attraction.

Not every baby born in America is automatically a citizen. The amendment makes clear that persons not subject to the laws of the country do not qualify.  This exclusion usually refers to individuals who have diplomatic immunity, i.e. ambassadors and other international delegates.  But their status is not at issue here.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has attacked Bush and Trump by tweeting that those born in the U.S. are simply “babies.” However, the post fails to clarify her specific view on the question of actual citizenship.

There is much to be debated about immigration reform. But pejorative language—even if unintended—further polarizes opinions, makes civil discussion more difficult and realistic solutions impossible.

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