8% US Births To Illegal Aliens

A staggering 8 percent of all babies born in the United States in 2008 were offspring of illegal aliens. What are the public policy implications?

A staggering 8 percent of all babies born in the United States in 2008 were offspring of illegal aliens, Pew Hispanic Center reports.

An estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the offspring of unauthorized immigrants, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Unauthorized immigrants comprise slightly more than 4% of the adult population of the U.S., but because they are relatively young and have high birthrates, their children make up a much larger share of both the newborn population (8%) and the child population (7% of those younger than age 18) in this country.

These figures are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2009 Current Population Survey, augmented with the Pew Hispanic Center’s analysis of the demographic characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population using a “residual estimation methodology” it has employed for the past five years.

When Mark Ambinder tweeted this figure yesterday afternoon, I was extremely dubious.  It struck me as an implausibly high figure.

But, while I haven’t studied the full report (a PDF of which is available at the first link) I do trust Pew as a high caliber, honest survey research firm.  So, I take their figure seriously.   Truth of the matter is that we really have no way of getting precise information, since the very nature of illegal immigration requires doing one’s best to stay off the grid.   But I trust that the Census Bureau’s estimate is the best possible and that Pew has used quality analysis to arrive at their guestimate.

I’m not sure knowing this factoid does for us.

Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis, implies that this vindicates Senator Lindsey Graham’s call for hearings on the birthright citizenship policy.  But, while I don’t have a problem with hearings to gain a better understanding of the issue, it’s unclear what changing the policy — which may well require Constitutional amendment — would do for us.

We have a key missing piece of information here:  How does this 8% differ from the other 92% as adult citizens?  Are they any less productive or law-abiding?

New York magazine’s Nitasha Tiku seems to suggest that these 8 percent are a potential voting bloc that Graham and others should be wary of crossing.

At the other pole, TWI’s Elise Foley has perhaps the best unintentionally funny analysis of the information:

[W]ithout automatic citizenship for children born in the U.S., many of these children, like their parents, would be undocumented, adding to the illegal immigrant population in the U.S.

Aside from whatever  lure automatic U.S. citizenship might have in attracting illegal immigration, the notion that you can solve a problem by defining it away is bizarre.   Why, if we granted automatic U.S. citizenship to anyone who set foot on our soil, we’d solve the problem altogether!

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. The thing to keep in mind here is the fact that there isn’t the connection between birthright citizenship and illegal immigration that many seem to think there is.

    A woman who comes to this country illegally and gives birth is NOT immune from being deported, and neither is her child. There are several Federal Court cases confirming the authority of the INS/ICE to deport both of them. Yes, the child is a citizen, but since the child cannot care for itself the parent has primary custody, when the child is 18 they can decide if they wish to assert or disclaim their US citizenship.

     

     

  2. The figure strikes me as plausible largely because of the huge differences in birth rates. The US has higher birth rates than Europe, but even so we’d be facing the same demographic declines as most Western European nations are looking at – except for immigration, which is propping us up.
    Most of the nations that our immigrants are coming from, however – especially the illegal variety – have much higher birth rates. So while the total number of illegal immigrants is much lower than the total number of citizens + the total number of legal immigrants, their birth rate is much, much higher. Given that, this statistic doesn’t surprise me at all.
    Personally, I think the bigger problem isn’t that immigrant are coming here and having lots of children but that those already here aren’t. When the birth rate drops below the replacement rate (which ours basically has; like I said above, we’re making up for it with positive immigration numbers) it’s not a good thing for society.
    The issue is that it’s now advantageous to society at large to have children – so that we have workers and population growth to prop up social programs like Social Security and Medicaid, and just to keep our economy growing – but it’s no longer advantageous to individuals in the same way that it was in agricultural times.
    Anyway, a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but I personally don’t really care about anchor babies as an issue – even so many of them. I do worry about the general birth rate being so low.

  3. john personna says:

    (retry after hang)
     

    I almost mentioned this statistic yesterday, when talking about defacto immigration policies.  I’d actually heard a related number on public radio.  That 7% of citizens under 18 are children of illegal aliens.
     
    To me it is that we are accepting an immigration policy not of our making.  We don’t accept Nigerians or Romanians in such thousands, but we accept however many thousand whose parents are not blocked by an ocean and willing to take the risk.
     
    It is, defacto, a special status for residents of the Americas.
     
    (The local public radio show asked the question ‘does illegal immigration help the economy’ but did NOT ask the question if different, legal, immigration would help the economy MORE.  That is an implicit acceptance that this defacto system is our only immigration choice, and that something selective, or even a global lottery system, is off the table.  Strictly speaking a selective system would be best for our economy, and a global lottery would be the only ‘fair’ system.)

  4. James Joyner says:

    To me it is that we are accepting an immigration policy not of our making. […]  Strictly speaking a selective system would be best for our economy, and a global lottery would be the only ‘fair’ system.

    I agree fully. The problem is that I don’t see any workable alternative.  We share a huge border with a third world country and there’s tremendous demand for their labor here.  We’re not going to shoot them as they come across or anything similarly draconian.  And catch and release is a ridiculous waste of resources.

    Any viable solution would be on the demand side:  Penalizing the hell out of those who knowingly employ illegals.   But we don’t seem willing to do that.

  5. john personna says:

    Shorter:  the system of birth citizenship plus loose borders is, defacto, an open immigration policy for residents of the Americas.
     
    Of course residents of the Americas like that.  Over time they come to think of it as their special privilege.

  6. john personna says:

    I agree fully. The problem is that I don’t see any workable alternative.  We share a huge border with a third world country and there’s tremendous demand for their labor here.  We’re not going to shoot them as they come across or anything similarly draconian.  And catch and release is a ridiculous waste of resources.

    Well, the really bizarre thing is that the 14th amendment, created for very different times and conditions, locks this system in place.  Well more than locks, it drives it.

    Do opponents of change on the 14th fully understand that?  Are they OK with special status for the Americas?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Well, the really bizarre thing is that the 14th amendment, created for very different times and conditions, locks this system in place.  Well more than locks, it drives it.

    As I’ve noted in other posts, my main objections to changing this are practical rather than theoretical.   That said, I don’t think this is a significant driver of illegal immigration, for reasons Doug notes in the first comment.  The driver is jobs that pay radically more than those on the other side of the border.

  8. john personna says:

    I think the argument that birthright citizenship is not a driver of illegal immigration worked better before we had these numbers.
     
    Now it seems hand-waving, and contrary to common sense.  Would each of us consider the welfare of our children in this decision, if we were the ones to risk the border?
     
    I certainly would.  What prospective parent would not?
     
    (As an aside, I had a funny experience once down in Mexico.  I was struggling to speak Spanish to a bunch of kids.  After a time they had enough and just switched to perfect English.  “How do you speak such good English?”  “We went to school in Santa Ana.”)

  9. john personna says:

    BTW, it kind of annoys me that Mexico is given special status to stay a ‘third world country’ (a slightly out-dated term).
     
    Why don’t we expect them to pull an Asian miracle?  Why don’t they expect that themselves?  Is it because immigration to the US has occupied their culture as the way to succeed?

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Justice Posner, among others, has said that it is doubtful that birthright citizenship is required by the Fourteenth Amendment for children of illegal aliens.  It’s currently required by statute, and bills to amend it have failed.  So, I think it’s premature to conclude this is a Constitutional issue.

  11. Why don’t we expect them to pull an Asian miracle?  Why don’t they expect that themselves?

    Because it simply isn’t that easy. Like I told my students in my grad seminar on development yesterday, development is a great puzzle and it isn’t easy to achieve.  Indeed, pursuant directly to your question, much of the policy initiatives oriented towards (and in many case from within) Latin America were predicated on the notion that somehow the Asian Miracle could be replicated in the region.
    Having said that, Mexico actually has made a great deal of progress, in terms of economic development, since the 1980s.

  12. john personna says:

    Steven, I have read a bit on development economics, and traveled fairly broadly.  One of the best experiences of my childhood was a 7500 mile road trip through Mexico.   I’ve been back several times since.  I’ve never had a bad experience in Mexico, and have found kind and generous people everywhere I’ve traveled.  I’ve traveled a little in Asia and can compare to that.
     
    Based on that, “Because it simply isn’t that easy” doesn’t seem like a real explanation.  It seems like an excuse.

    Isn’t it true, that compared to Asia, Mexico’s culture is less oriented toward creating local wealth?  They have a bit of a ‘wealth is theft’ mentality, don’t they?  And part of the perception of American wealth is that we stole it?  And getting here is getting in on it?
     
     

  13. John,
    “Because it isn’t easy” is a incredibly short version of a long conversation.  Development is difficult, especially achieving it to the level of the US/Western Europe, etc.  If development was easy (i.e., let’s just expect an Asian Miracle) then 75% of the world’s population wouldn’t be living in developing states.
    And, again, in the case of Mexico, there have been substantial progress in terms of development, but I am not sure what you expect or think is the case when you say things like

    BTW, it kind of annoys me that Mexico is given special status to stay a ‘third world country’ (a slightly out-dated term)

    Or

    Isn’t it true, that compared to Asia, Mexico’s culture is less oriented toward creating local wealth?  They have a bit of a ‘wealth is theft’ mentality, don’t they?  And part of the perception of American wealth is that we stole it?  And getting here is getting in on it?

    What does any of that really mean?
     

  14. john personna says:

    Substantial progress?
     
    Would you be more or less willing to live there and open a business there now, or ten years ago?

  15. john personna says:

    What does any of that really mean?

    That culture matters.  Certainly a development story like South Korea’s shows that.  They worked (and studied) like hell for it, and achieved it.

  16. john personna says:

    You know Steven, for a guy who wants us to believe he has the answers, you are awfully sparing in your replies.

    Tell us about the relative educational aspirations in South Korea and Mexico, and how that aspect impacts local development.

  17. John,
    I don’t have the time to write whole books on this subject (in blog comment boxes, no less) to answer all of your questions.
    I suppose your right:  let’s just “expect them to pull an Asian miracle” and be done with it.  That’s easy, after all.

  18. john personna says:

    Well, remember that my original question was why we have such low expectations, and why they have such low expectations.  Your parting comment sort wimps to those same low expectations.
     
    I’ve mentioned before that my dad spent 35 years in LA inner city schools.  My mom worked in suburban LA schools a shorter time.  The hardest problem they faced in Hispanic communities was low expectations.  The teachers had to convince the students that education could help.  They weren’t getting that in the community.  Hell, maybe someone patronized them with a “let’s just ‘expect them to pull an Asian miracle’ and be done with it.  That’s easy, after all.
     
     
    People are people, but culture matters.

  19. I am unaware that I said expectations don’t matter.
    But, the notion that if we just expect real hard that this leads to development is beyond simplistic.

  20. john personna says:

    Did I say “just expect real hard?”

     

  21. Did I say “just expect real hard?”

    Pretty much, yes.  That and “culture matters”–which I would not, per se, dispute.

  22. john personna says:

    No Steven, I said for example:
     

    That culture matters.  Certainly a development story like South Korea’s shows that.  They worked (and studied) like hell for it, and achieved it.

    You’ve reduced yourself to misrepresenting my argument, while offering none of your  own.  Could you sink any lower?

  23. john personna says:

    (Now what, you are going to come around to agree that expectations, education, and work matter, but since I said them I’m wrong anyway?)

  24. John,
    Basically I disputed the notion that a) we give Mexico some kind of free pass, and that b) expecting an Asian Miracle by fiat/assuming that it is easy to replicate the experiences in Taiwan and South Korea is problematic.   I further noted that if one looks at the longer view of the Mexican economy, especially since the 1980s, that there have been improvements in development.
    And yes, while culture matter, it is not as easy an explanation as you are making it out to be.  Yes, education is important. Yes, hard work is important.  However, that’s not a development strategy (I wish, btw, that it was).   My argument with you is not that we don’t agree on some basics, it is that I dispute the simplicity of your assertions.

  25. john personna says:

    I think you took the low path, and you never arrived at the destination, which is:
     
    If development in Mexico is good for them and good for us, what do we do?
     
    That facetious “let’s just ‘expect them to pull an Asian miracle’ and be done with it” was a particularly bad answer.  Not only did you punt on the argument with me, you punted on their development (development expert that you are).
     

  26. sam says:

    @JJ
    “Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis, implies that this vindicates Senator Lindsey Graham’s call for hearings on the birthright citizenship policy.”
    I don’t think so, but I also think the head in the link you supplied is ambiguous:

    Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law near Sacramento, CA., says Republicans are simply attempting to appeal to their base in an election year since there’s little evidence “anchor babies” are a significant problem.

    “It’s also not a coincidence that this idea is being floated right after the Arizona law got shot down,” Johnson said Friday, referring to the controversial anti-illegal immigration bill recently halted by a U.S. federal court judge.

    “Some of the Republicans in Congress see some political gain in raising the birthright issue at this time. It’s an effort to appeal to some part of the Republican base, because they are more likely to appeal to that base than to ever get anything done to this amendment. It would take many years and a lot of political wrangling.” http://www.metronews.ca/toronto/world/article/597070–republicans-target-illegal-immigrant-babies–page0
     
     

  27. Anon says:

    The argument against birthright citizenship is that it is used to bring over other relatives. So what we really need to know is what percentage of children born to illegal immigrants then go on to use their US citizenship to sponsor residency for relatives?  Keep in mind that the waiting period is 21 years.

  28. John,
    I think that, in part, I am confused, because you are the one who said, to quote it again, “Why don’t we expect them to pull an Asian miracle?” and, again, my point is that is that it is not that easy.
    Beyond that, I would note, that they did try to go down that route when the Mexican government went through the process of structurally adjusting their economy from one of an insulated growth model (ISI, import substitution industrialization) in the 1980s to a more open, globalized economic model that was based, in part, of the experience of the Asian Tigers, like SK and Taiwan.  This helped development and help revitalize the moribund Mexican economy.  NAFTA was part of that approach.
    I have no easy fixes or steps to take that would automatically lead to further transformation of the Mexican economy.  I think that it is, in general , headed in more or less the right direction but that (simplistic a statement as it is), development is hard and often slow.   I wish I had an easy solution, as a Nobel Prize would, no doubt, be in my future (and while I am being a tad flippant, I note this in all seriousness:  there is no clear formula for development).  Part of my point is that understanding a problem often means admitting that there are no simple solutions–indeed, that is often my point on things like immigration, the drug war, development, and so forth.  I think you interpret my statements on a number of issues as meaning that I “have all the answers” when, in fact, what I am trying to note is the lack of easy answers.  One of the things that I think is very important (indeed, essential) to political/policy discussion is appropriate diagnosis of the problems at hand.
    If you want some specific policy recommendations, a couple do come to mind.
    First, I would work to reduce and end farm subsidies in the US which help depress corn prices (and others) globally–a situation that has led Mexico to shift to being a net importer of corn and has led to sharp price increased in corn, which is a staple for poor Mexican families.  The situation is such that is damages Mexico’s agricultural economy, where it ought to have a comparative advantage in the global marketplace due to labor costs and has also put financial strains on poor Mexican families.
    Second, I would radically reassess drug policies, as the prohibitionist ones in place are resulting in bloodshed, diversion of massive amounts of funds, and encouraging the poor to enter into criminal activities.
    And yes, I would encourage investment in education.
    BTW, I am not so convinced that there is a special dearth of hard work in Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America.

  29. The argument against birthright citizenship is that it is used to bring over other relatives. So what we really need to know is what percentage of children born to illegal immigrants then go on to use their US citizenship to sponsor residency for relatives?  Keep in mind that the waiting period is 21 years.

    Not only must the US citizen child be 21 before they can apply to bring an eligible relative to the US legally, but if any of those relatives have been in the US illegally and deported they would be required under currently existing law to wait another ten years after that.

     

     

  30. <blockquote>Any viable solution would be on the demand side:  Penalizing the hell out of those who knowingly employ illegals.   But we don’t seem willing to do that.</blockquote>
    Thank goodness.  There’s no way of really doing this without creating a system where all hiring decisions must be approved by the federal government.

  31. Anon says:

    Not only must the US citizen child be 21 before they can apply to bring an eligible relative to the US legally, but if any of those relatives have been in the US illegally and deported they would be required under currently existing law to wait another ten years after that.

    Wow, so, in theory, with a completely clear conscience and no change to the constitution or existing law, the government could wait until an “anchor baby” was 18 and thus fully independent, then deport the parents, and thus create a 31-year wait.

  32. Herb says:

    “Not only must the US citizen child be 21 before they can apply to bring an eligible relative to the US legally, but if any of those relatives have been in the US illegally and deported they would be required under currently existing law to wait another ten years after that”

    If you’ve been deported, I think it’s a 10 year wait just to enter the country again legally. Your chances of getting a green card after being deported are slim to none. Count on none. No green card, no citizenship.

    PS. Even after getting a green card, you have to wait 5 years before you’re eligible for citizenship. Immigrating to the US legally is a lengthy, difficult process.

    Which is why so many people skip it and take their chances….

  33. Trumwill says:

    //Thank goodness.  There’s no way of really doing this without creating a system where all hiring decisions must be approved by the federal government.//
     
    I have been batting around an idea lately: If you’re an illegal immigrant, and you’ve been working in this country, tell us who hired you (and/or who supplied your phony documentation) and you get a green card and relocation to another part of the country. Right now the laws are hard to enforce because it’s win-win for the participants. Break up that coalition with a prisoner’s dilemma and I think you could make some real headway.

  34. Gustopher says:

    Stormy Dragon scribbles:

    <blockquote>Any viable solution would be on the demand side:  Penalizing the hell out of those who knowingly employ illegals.   But we don’t seem willing to do that.</blockquote>
    Thank goodness.  There’s no way of really doing this without creating a system where all hiring decisions must be approved by the federal government.

    Well, actually, that’s just nonsense. We already require companies to check the legal documents of their workers, and a lot of companies that hire illegal aliens are deliberately negligent in that.
    The costs of non-compliance are lower than the costs of compliance, so there’s a strong incentive to not comply.
    Nail the bad employers hides to the wall, fine them out of business and send the managers and owners off to a nice Federal Prison for a decade or so, and you would see a decrease in non-compliance.

  35. TangoMan says:

    <I>As I’ve noted in other posts, my main objections to changing this are practical rather than theoretical.</i>
     
    Your argument would be stronger by far if we actually tried to implement the practical and failed and then had to confront the theoretical.
     
    <i>Why don’t we expect them to pull an Asian miracle?</i>
     
    Because Mestizos are not N.E. Asians.  A population with a mean IQ of 89 can’t perform to the same standards as a population with a mean IQ of 105. Try to break free of the creationist shackles that so limit your model of the world.

  36. john personna says:

    Thanks for the longer answer, Steven.  I’d agree with many of your strategies.  Would it help is we removed “Asian miracle” from my question, since that seems the stumbling bock?
     
    Given the interest we have in a healthy Mexico, what would you say is our commitment?  To what degree does Mexican development even figure in American political thought?
     
    A cynic might think that “immigration” has a hotness rank of 1 or 2 right now, and where is Mexican development?  20 or 30?  How far is it below Afghan development?
     
    (Tango, I doubt you can separate measured IQ from culture.  Those millions of Asian moms saying “study!” matter.)

  37. sam says:

    “Tango, I doubt you can separate measured IQ from culture.”
     
    You don’t know the Tman.

  38. john personna says:

    I guess that raises the question of to extent low expectation for Mexico are simple racism.

  39. TangoMan says:

    <i>(Tango, I doubt you can separate measured IQ from culture.  Those millions of Asian moms saying “study!” matter.)</i>
     
    What I wrote was “Because Mestizos are not N.E. Asians.”
     
    Are you arguing that the cultures of these two groups are identical? It doesn’t matter whether I can separate culture from genetics (causation is another debate), the reality on the ground is that both genetics and culture are different between these two groups and the result, from any combination you choose, is a significant IQ disparity.  There is ample literature which discusses the significance of IQ on national outcomes.  You and Steven are constructing a fantasy model built on an extremist cultural determinist foundation, where matters like IQ don’t intrude.
     
    If you wish to believe that the IQ disparity is entirely the result of culture, well, go ahead, but at least deal in reality.
     
    <i> Those millions of Asian moms saying “study!” matter.)</i>
     
    1.) Not as much as you think. As Stanley Sue and Sumie Okazaki pointed out in their 1991 American Psychologist paper, <a href=”http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ415977&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ415977″>Asian American Educational Achievements: A Phenomenon in Search of an Explanation</a>, the parenting styles and values found in East Asian-American homes tend to <b>correlate with lower test scores when they are found in white homes.</b>
     
    2.) Even if true, the consequences are then real and these behaviors are not prevalent in Mestizo cultures. Now what?