The impact of illegal immigrant births

Babies play in cradles.


Tess Vigeland: A report out this week from the Pew Hispanic Center is sure to fuel the fires over repeal of the 14th Amendment. That's the section of the Constitution that grants automatic citizenship to any baby born in the United States. The Pew study says in 2008, 340,000 of those babies were born to at least one parent who was in this country illegally. That's nearly one in 12 newborns.

Marketplace's Amy Scott looks at what that might mean for the economy.

Amy Scott: The Federation for American Immigration Reform is one group that wants Congress to change the 14th Amendment, so that only babies born to U.S. citizens and legal residents get automatic citizenship.

Spokesman Ira Mehlman says children born to illegal immigrants cost taxpayers billions of dollars in social services.

Ira Mehlman: By and large, we're talking about a population that earns very low incomes. And their children, their U.S. citizen children, are entitled to a full range of benefits as a result of the low incomes that their parents have.

But immigrants without papers pay taxes, too. Steven Camorata is with the Center for Immigration Studies. His group favors fewer immigrants, but better treatment of those who are here. Camorata says a few years ago he calculated that undocumented immigrants paid about $16 billion a year to the federal government in various taxes.

Steven Camorata: Unfortunately, they were creating about $26 billion in costs at the federal level, and many of those costs are associated with their U.S.-born children.

But Camorata says even if those kids weren't automatic citizens, taxpayers would cover a lot of the costs anyway -- like access to emergency health care and public education. He says the solution isn't revoking their right to citizenship, but doing a better job of keeping their parents from coming here.

Critics of automatic citizenship, like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, say it's a magnet that draws people across the border. Some refer to the children born to these immigrants as "anchor babies" who make it easier for family members to come to the U.S. But advocates for undocumented immigrants say people simply come here for opportunity.

Doris Meissner with the Migration Policy Institute says many are here several years before starting families.

Doris Meissner: To equate this with the idea that people cross the border in order to give birth to a U.S.-citizen child, that is not an accurate reflection of what's going on.

Meissner says it's no surprise that so many babies are born to undocumented workers. They tend to be young, and therefore, more likely to have babies.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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I blame the Baby Boomers, my parents, for most of this. Some benefited themselves by using illegal labor to pad their pocket books. Others exploited for "bonus money." Funny thing is now many of them are looking around and beginning to realize too late, when their children are getting overpriced college degrees and can't get much, what a horrible mistake they made. I laugh when I hear about parents getting hyped up for their elementary-age kids to learn spanish in school; what, so the'll be able to communicate with their fellow low-payed workers when they grow up??? Also, being fluent in Spanish and caucasion, I am sometimes shocked at the pure bigotry, racism, etc, displayed by many Hispanics towards all others. I've even had some of them straight up tell me that, right or wrong, they'll support one of their own who lies over someone who tells the truth. How is that for integrity??? I worked a temp a job for a year and wasn't shocked when 8 months in, the agency sent a 4 foot 11 inch small Mexican to the job site. Within 5 minutes, having not even started working, he was approached by guys I'd worked around for months and told where to go and what paperwork to fake to get a "steady" position. I just thought "I've been here for months and not once have any of them made any similar suggestions to me. Hell, if "white" people do that, it's called discrimination and inconsideration of others. I guess all non-whites are too multi-cultural to be rascist or bigots...right. You can fool some of the people some of the time and all middle-age white people all the time, right???

janice sibug of 1631 el camino real #7 tustin ca 92780 was born to an illegal alien name ligaya fabian who jumpshipped her flight at lax from germany to canada.

People complain about giving to the illegal immigrants yet have no complaints about throwing theirdollars to war and to billion dollar organizations stealing from us citizens.
We pay way too much money to movies stars, sports figures, parades in cites and I could go on and on. Oprah has how much? And why did we give it too her. Come on people we have our priorities all screwed up. We in the US have soo soo much and just don't see it. We give to much to those who don't need it and complain when giving to someone who does. We are totally screwed up as a people. We need to get back to morality and integrity. Thats done on and idividual level. So folks look onto yourself. Do you not have enough or do you just need to change your thought system. I for one need to focus on gratitude so that I dont complain about someone getting something for free. How would you like to be put in that situation. I rather pay taxes that have to take care of a disabled child that's for sure. Come on people......

As long ago as the late 1960's, when I was getting out of high school, one could go, and we sometimes did, to Paradise Valley Hospital (now bankrupt)and watch the hispanic couples sit in the parking lot waiting for her to go into labor. Then they'd go in the hospital. This went on for decades. It was just part of the way things were. Now, according to the San Diego Union/Tribune,of the 3.2 million people in this county, over one million are here illegally at any time. That's 30% of us. According to the show "Justice talking" on KCRW Public Radio in Los Angeles, more than 500,000 deadbeat dads are in arears on child support at any one time, that are here illegally (this was in late 2008). So do you think their Moms are on welfare? If each father is in arears for $2000, and you know it's more, they owe $1 billion right there. And who gets the tab? I know lots of illegal hispanics. Many are really good. Some owe me money. But they come from a culture that does not stress education, and have lots of kids when they can't afford to feed the first one. Consistantly. Having people come here for a better life isn't terrible, but when you bring a few million of your friends, that's abusing the welcome. By the way; all the ones I know have fake SS #'s. So does everyone they know. How can several million people have fake SS#'s and Social Security can't catch it? These good peopole don't want to be identity thieves, but there you are.

Hmm... "Mehlman" and "Camorata" don't sound like names that might have benefited from the 14th Amendment's citizenship rules at all, do they?

I'm shocked that NPR would consider FAIR a reputable source for news and policy pronouncements. The Federation for American Immigration Reform has a long history of anti-Latino and also anti-Catholic rhetoric. It was founded in the 70’s and connected/funded as part of the John Taunton network (billionaire ultra conservative with far-reaching tentacles). NPR did not disclose this information about its source.

justis sangre, justis soli; two of my favorite latin terms, signifying citizenship by blood&birthplace. The funny thing, sometimes, is that it seems people who argue for rabid immigration reform seem to feel as if something is being stolen from them.

It is almost as if they believe the entitlements they perceive being allotted to illegal immigrants and their children should come to them as rightful citizens.

"Where are our entitlements? We deserve this."

It's funny that these people are also your vanilla, boot-strappy, over-steeped tea-bagger. They want things to come as easily as they believe it comes to illegal immigrants, and just confuse their slothful jealousy for principle.

Get out there, make something new of the world, and trade for it. That is the way it's been done since the last wooly-mammoth went down. You can't get more boot-strappy than that

If people don't understand the simple meaning of the term "illegal" then its their problem. Illegal is illegal in every sense of it and this folks who are here illegaly should be sent back to their country no matter how long they have been here.

Kudos for bringing to daylight what some would prefer to be kept in the shadows. Proponents of illegal activities of any sort prefer that such activities and their consequences not be brought to light. We need to talk about automatic US citizenship for offspring of "undocumented" (illegal) immigrants, but also we need to discuss what to do about the issue of birthright tourism, and chain migration. The USA does not have unlimited resources, in terms of unlimited Tax revenue, nor national park space, nor water, nor agricultural land. Los Angles used to be paradise, but no more. San Diego likewise. How many people do we want to jam into the USA, before Congress starts to take a look at our immigration policies, including birthright citizenship and birthright tourism?

The core issue is illegal immigrants are illegal, not what they are "costing" the USA for being here. Illegal is illegal. Why is there so much discussion about this subject? The answer is simple...return illegals to their country of origin, regardless to how many years they have been in the USA. Their illegal presence here in the USA does not make them legal! Does it?


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