There are No Anchor Babies, or Why E.J. Dionne Must Visit Parkland Hospital

By Stephen Steinlight on August 5, 2010

A deeply rooted psychic need on E.J. Dionne's part to engage in almost-daily bouts of histrionic moral accusation have found a rich vein to mine in the immigration debate, and he's incapable of letting an opportunity go to waste no matter how lame the result. The self-righteous mindset that regularly fails to appear high-minded, despite strenuous effort, is on display in the staggeringly unpersuasive Washington Post column, "Is the GOP shedding a birthright?" – as though he doubted it or actually gave a damn. Classic examples of Dionne's rhetoric include: "Rather than shout, I'll just ask the question in a civil way: Dear Republicans, do you really want to endanger your party's greatest political legacy by turning the 14th Amendment…into an excuse for election year ugliness?…Honestly, I thought that our politics could not get worse…and suddenly there appears the introduction into popular use of the hideous term 'anchor babies'")

His habitual resort to the sanctimonious rant in place of reasoned argumentation – certainly with regard to immigration – is manifested as well in the conferences on immigration he's moderated at the Brookings Institution. Rather than conceive of them as occasions for the expression of diverse viewpoints on a controversial issue of great moment to the nation, panelists – with the exception of one brave, heavily outnumbered invitee enlisted to play the role of the Devil in the Cathedral or General Custer at Little Big Horn – start out with the same sets of political and ideological presuppositions and predictably end up in the identical place: all, the Devil/Custer apart, fervently endorse comprehensive immigration reform. Dionne is not so much a thinker on this subject as a zealot, a true believer. In addition to insuring that what he takes to be absolute truth is unchallenged, the voice in his op-ed pieces resembles that of a New Age Grand Inquisitor who excoriates as closet racists, out-and-out bigots, or political whores anyone with the temerity to disagree with him – but is also capable of mourning his opponent's loss of virtue, always posited in the distant past, and who would embrace them as brothers if and when they see the light.

Sir Max Beerbohm, the English caricaturist and wit, once said of Henry James, "He had a mind so fine no idea could penetrate it." Watching Dionne engage in irrelevant antiquarian exhibitionism about President Andrew Johnson's stupid and reprehensible views of "Gipsies" and other non-whites while completely ignoring the compelling case that extending the protections of the 14th Amendment to children of illegal aliens delivered here expressly to gain a family foothold on American soil flies in the face of logic, history, the obvious intentions of the authors of the Amendment, and is having serious socio-economic consequences right now inevitably recalls Beerbohm's bon mot about James.

It's not simply that Dionne's being evasive by offering no response to this argument; he's incapable even of acknowledging it, a typical result of spending all of one's time only with like-minded people who together rule out of bounds all discourse that threaten the "certainties" they've agreed to uphold. If there is a thesis in this column, indeed anything resembling an argument, it's that Reconstruction Republicans did the right thing in overseeing the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to secure the status and liberties of free black people – but that by opposing its bizarre misapplication to the children of illegal aliens – a gigantic current demographic – they have done the wrong thing, and that by itself shows them to be just as mean-spirited and racist as the Democrats of yore. The capstone of his case is the nifty bit of esoteric scholia about one little-known and totally inconsequential reason for Andrew Johnson's opposition to the 14th Amendment.

As Dionne surely knows, the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, just three years after the Civil War, and concerned only the protection of the legal status and rights of freed black slaves. It had no application to those who are not "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," that is, people residing in the United States with sovereign allegiance elsewhere, including foreign diplomats and Native Americans who had the sovereignty of their tribal lands. The amendment had nothing to do with immigration or immigrants. The first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875, sought to prevent entry into the United States of "bad people" from China, contract laborers and women "likely to engage in prostitution" who supposedly had criminal records in China, though the arguments were clearly based on racism, xenophobia, and fear of cheap labor competition.

Of the numerous offenses against common sense as well as the knowledge and understanding that come from experience and empirical data Dionne commits in this piece, surely the most egregious is his categorical assertion there is no such thing as an "anchor baby"! His breathtaking aversion to fact is arguably only matched by the single source he cites to deny a reality that just about everyone else in this country recognizes. He quotes a columnist from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Connie Schultz, whose expertise on the subject she attributes to her being over age 50: "I have yet to meet a mother anywhere in the world who would describe the excruciating miracle of birth as 'dropping a baby.'" Since I'm over 60 I evidently have a built-in advantage, though I can't speak with authority about the use of the phrase "drop a baby." But if we translate that language into the practice it denotes – the reality of women illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States expressly to deliver a baby – then I have a suggestion for Ms. Schultz (and E.J. Dionne): fly to Dallas, Texas, and visit the maternity unit at Parkland Hospital, the second busiest maternity ward in the country.

According to the hospital's records for 2006 reported in a story in the Dallas Morning News, fully 70 percent of all the births at the hospital were to illegal-alien mothers. In 2006, the total number of births was approximately 16,000. Though precise data is unavailable, sources in Dallas currently estimate the figure for the babies of illegal aliens alone exceeds 20,000. Interviews with the mothers who are illegal aliens confirm that their decision to come to the U.S. to deliver their babies were conscious and required significant planning and preparation. It goes without saying that the cost, all born by taxpayers, is substantial. In 2004, according to the article, the cost was $70.7 million. Also needless to say, the impact of the birth by illegal alien mothers at such high levels year after year is having a dramatic impact on the demography of Dallas. It is radically increasing income disparity, representing a rising danger to social order, as well as contributing to rapidly rising welfare costs.

But E.J. Dionne, who has no responsibility to deal with these big intractable real life consequences, can do something else: he can excoriate the "racists" who don't enjoy the same safe conduct pass from social responsibility. He can remind us about Andrew Johnson and his thoughts on "Gipsies." After all, he has the privilege of an elite perch at the Washington Post where he can spirit away tough realities while exhibiting his bogus credentials as a believer in sweetness and light. His hands may remain clean, but if he is ever honest with himself the same cannot be said of his conscience.