I think we're all anchor babies on this bus

  • Diane Sylvain


It's bad enough that we're supposed to worry about President Obama's citizenship; now, we also have to worry about our own. I'd always knew I'd be in trouble if the "papers, please" guys caught up with me, because the only copy I have of my birth certificate is so bedraggled and unconvincing. And if Obama's certificate, posted on the Internet and vouched for by Hawaii, isn't good enough, mine isn't worth the paper it was forged on. Besides, I can't remember where I stashed the thing. But it's not just me I'm worried about; it's my parents. How do I know they're legal? How can I — or you, or any of us — prove we're not "anchor babies"?

A growing number of conservatives want to repeal the 14th Amendment, or at least the part that says: All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States. That would mean that being born here is no longer good enough; your parents need to be citizens. Makes sense, I guess. Except how do you know your parents were citizens?

Yes, of course, they told you they were. Probably told the folks at the hospital, too. But how do you know they weren't lying? They lied about Santa Claus, didn't they? They swore your zits would clear up when you turned 18. For all I know, I'm no more than an arthritic, middle-aged anchor baby. I just hope I don't find out that I'm also a terrorist anchor baby. That would really be a bummer.

How far back does the chain of illegality go? Neither of my parents went through the naturalization process; they simply assumed they were citizens because they were born here, the offspring of parents who assumed they were citizens because they were born here, too.

Despite the fact that he is responsible for creating terror-babies –- he even called my brothers and me "terrors," we just didn't think he meant it -- I feel sorry for Dad, who thought he was safe from deportation in his Florida retirement community. He'll probably wave the flag, protesting that the country owes him something because he spent years in the military, but if you start going easy on people just because they served in, say, Vietnam, they'll never stop sneaking in. (Into the U.S., I mean, not Vietnam.) As for the rest of my ancestors, I'm only sorry it's too late to deport them. But I'd gladly ship their ashes back to wherever the hell they came from. If I could figure it out.

Unfortunately, I don't know a lot about my family's origins. My mother's brother waxed lyrical about our alleged descent from Robert the Bruce: "Our ancestors were kings in Scotland while those Hanoverians were hoeing turnips in Germany!" (Actual quote, originally delivered in an accent thick as Tupelo honey.) Uncle Herbert used to talk about how the Yankees burned our Georgia plantation as though he were still trying to get the scorchy smell out of the drapes, but I've always suspected that it was one of the Ancestral Trailers that got torched, if anything.

And on the other side of the family, I've never known a Sylvain who wouldn't have sneaked into this or any country illegally, given the chance. We're all born scofflaws with a low regard for "No Trespassing" signs. But none of this helps me know where to deport myself to. If the American South isn't truly my country of origin -- which wouldn't surprise me, or it -- then where do I go? Do I send my heart to the Highlands, ma tête to France, and divvy up the rest between Ireland and Germany and England and Canada and heaven knows where else? Or do I become purely migratory, lingering in each country of origin for an amount of time to be determined by DNA analysis?

This is all starting to make my head hurt. I liked it better when being born here was enough.

But I see Immigration is at the door, so I'd better start packing my bags, if I can find them. Still, I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were you, Mr. No-Birthright-Citizenship. Even if your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, you're still just the spawn of illegal Puritan terrorist anchor babies! It's time we redid the Statue of Liberty's poem. Instead of "Give me your tired, your poor … I lift my lamp beside the golden door," we'll simplify: "Good riddance to the lot of you. Don't let the golden door hit you on your way out!"

Diane Sylvain is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes in Paonia, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

14th Amendment censorship
Camille Cazedessus
Camille Cazedessus
Sep 14, 2010 06:37 PM
    Who is Dian Sylvain to censor the 14th Amendment? Even a high school senior would object to quoting the 14th Amendment and to simply leave out the six middle words: “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Who is she to dismiss those words?

    Ms. Sylvain is advised to read conservative Ann Coulter’s column of Aug. 4, 2010. There she will find no such idea as “repealing the 14th Amendment.” Rather she will find that we have “anchor babies” because of a footnote slipped into a Supreme Court opinion by Justice Brennan in 1982 in Plyler v. Doe.

    The author of the citizenship clause, Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan, expressly said: “This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”

An 1884 SCOTUS decision ruled that the 14th Amendment did not even confer citizenship on Indians -- because they were subject to tribal jurisdiction, not U. S. jurisdiction.”

    AND THERE IT IS. Those pesky 6 words that Ms. Sylvain, Justice Brennan and now thousands of other Americans want to ignore.

    We don’t need to repeal the 14th Amendment, we just need to read what it actually says. And it’s not a “conservative” issue, it’s common sense English. And certainly, the Puritans were NOT illegal aliens.

-Camille Cazedessus
Chimney Rock, Colorado
HOW many words?!?!
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
Sep 15, 2010 12:17 PM
Well, actually there are 435 words in the 14th amendment. And yes, what it says relative to birth right citizenship (82 words. Any high school senior would object...oh, never mind) is rather simple and straight forward: "Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

I'm no Ann Coulter, but what's the mystery of those 6 out of 435 words? Isn't anybody who's here - born, naturalized, or visiting - subject to the jurisdiction thereof? And as to the question of who is Dianne Sylvain...I don't know, but my guess is just some ol' middle aged gal with a brain who objects to the country being protected by the likes of privileged bigots such as Ann.
Birth right
Sep 20, 2010 09:40 PM
It would be nice if we can see Obamas birth certificate plastered on his forehead all we have seen is a certificate of live birth, you can't even sign your kid up to little league with that. And those bothersome 6 words say being born here doesn't convey citizenship if you are subject to the jurisdiction of anthor country, like having parents from a foreign country
And certainly, the Puritans were NOT illegal aliens.
Heywood Williams
Heywood Williams
Sep 16, 2010 11:07 AM
Refer someone to Ann Coulter as a "reference"? You can't be serious. I mean, really.

But where did Ms. Sylvain dissmiss the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof”? Where did anyone on any of the many sides of this issue suggest that having citizenship based on being born here allowed anyone exemption from jurisdiction (except for non-laws invented to prevent citizenship)?
     Sen. Howard's exemption of “ . . . persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers . . . ” describes people who claim citizenship and jurisdiction in and from other countries. The Supreme Court's exemptions were children born to foreign diplomats, children born to enemy forces in hostile occupation of the United States, and children born to Native Americans who are members of tribes not taxed. However, these last were later given full citizenship by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. All other persons born in the United States are citizens.

And finally - The only reason the Puritans were not illegal aliens is that it hadn't occurred to the existing residents of the land to make laws that kept others out. Too bad for them, huh? Rather, the notion of property ownership was considered barbaric by most of the known tribes. As if someone could "own" their mother. How foolish.
Please observe comment policy
Mike Maxwell
Mike Maxwell
Sep 18, 2010 03:15 PM
Some comments were deleted from this thread because they violated our commenting policy. HCN does not tolerate personal attacks. Here is a link to this policy:

Please keep your comments respectful of the opinions of others.
Sep 21, 2010 05:22 PM
This web site is CENSORING the comments not for language but for content, be aware.
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
Sep 22, 2010 11:00 AM
Well, try this test: Re-submit your comments, keeping the exact content, but with no abusive language or personal attacks. See if it gets published. Or if you're correct and there's a secret, High Country News, content censorship program. Oh, and I myself have been censored here.
Comment publishing
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
Sep 22, 2010 11:04 AM
High Country News does not have a way to review comments before they are published, nor can we edit them. We can only remove already-published comments when we notice them or receive complaints about them.
Sincerely, Jodi Peterson, Managing Editor
And yet ...
Socratic Gadfly
Socratic Gadfly
Sep 21, 2010 09:01 PM
The first comment of the person who started us tumbling downhill still stands, as does a comment by a "birther" which could be seen as attacking the President of the United States. (And, HCN staff, that's just an observation, and nothing more, in both cases.)

Comment policy
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
Sep 22, 2010 09:05 AM
HCN's mission is to "inform and inspire" readers. Comments that are libelous, defamatory, abusive, insulting, offensive, vulgar, etc. do not further understanding, nor do they promote the productive exchange of ideas; in fact, their effect is the opposite. At our discretion, we remove such comments (per our comment policy), and we try to err on the side of letting comments stand, unless they clearly cross the line. We appreciate those of you who contribute to a civil, respectful dialogue.
Sincerely, Jodi Peterson, Managing Editor
Sep 22, 2010 01:41 PM
Why call someone a "birther" what's wrong with reader? Why denigrate your Readership, I would call you a sheep - have you seen a real birth certificate?