Send California your anchor babies

You better anchor me, baby.

Because I find it impossible to write with restraint when politicians start using babies – babies using babies! – to prey on prejudice and misinform the public in the service of winning votes.

That’s exactly what’s happening in the Republican presidential contest, as Donald Trump and his opponents make xenophobic nonsense about “anchor babies” the number one issue in the race. I won’t rehash here all the ways that people who actually know something about immigration have debunked this fantastical idea that hordes of pregnant immigrants are coming here to have babies (permit me just one statistic: 91 percent of undocumented immigrant parents had been in this country at least two years when they gave birth). Let’s just stipulate that race-baiting bunk is a staple of America’s shameless presidential politics, and nothing I write will change that.

But when it comes to the babies part of this anchor babies business, I—as a Californian, as an American, as a human—can’t stay silent. I am stridently, unapologetically 100-percent pro-baby. And I’m old enough to remember when politicians were, too, kissing and cooing at any baby within sight, instead of scapegoating the diaper set for the problems of the republic.

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets are helping to spread the ignorance by portraying anchor babies as a “problem,” or a two-sided “controversy,” or a “complex issue” (as the Los Angeles Times called it in a front page headline) when it is no such thing.

Indeed, when it comes to babies—anchor or any other kind—the only problem we face is that we don’t have enough of them.

Here’s an invitation to the rest of America: If you think you have too many babies in your community, please buy tickets to California for them and their parents. We sure could use them.

Our state is facing a historic decline in its number of young children. According to USC, California had nearly 200,000 fewer children under age 10 in 2010 as it had in 2000, and another loss in the child population of more than 100,00 is projected by the end of this decade. The losses have been particularly heavy in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Why? The birth rate here has fallen among every ethnic group, and now is below the replacement level to maintain a population.  

And guess what, America? The country’s birth rate dropped below replacement in 2007 and hasn’t recovered, according to CDC figures; by one calculation, the recession has left us with a baby deficit of 2.3 million. Which makes immigrants and their babies a solution to our baby bust, not a problem. Indeed, serious presidential candidates should probably be offering plans to incentivize the arrival of more babies–and make them more successful grownups. The biggest domestic challenge for this country is how a dwindling number of working-age people is going to support our growing population of retirees. Who will pay the taxes to support you in your old age, or buy your home when you die or go into the nursing home, if there aren’t enough younger, productive people?

Yes, I know that Jeb Bush—whose birth into one of America’s most successful families anchored him in politics—is offering a different argument: That the real “anchor baby” problem involves so-called “birth tourism” by Chinese families who come here to have babies and pick up a U.S. passport for them on their way back to their home countries. Media outlets have covered this as an “issue” for years in California regions with large populations of Chinese descent, especially the San Gabriel Valley, where I live. Isn’t so-called birth tourism a trivialization of citizenship or a terrible incursion into our communities, as Bush suggests?

Oh, please.

Getting citizenship has always required money in some form, even if it’s just to get here and make a life. This country is full of malls and housing  financed by foreigners here on a popular investor visa program. In California, the Inland Empire city of Murrieta, site of many anti-anchor baby protests, has relied heavily on such investors.

And what American in her right mind would be against tourism? In a terrific Rolling Stone story on birth tourism, one Chinese couple that came to my part of Los Angeles to give birth is shown seeing a Laker game (haters now can blame Kobe Bryant for anchor babies, too, I suppose), visiting Venice Beach, eating at our local restaurants, and doing a ton of shopping at our outlet malls. We need as much of this sort of thing as possible.

The only problems with Chinese birth tourists are that there aren’t enough of them (the highest estimates are in the tens of thousands) and that they head back to China instead of making their lives here. U.S. citizenship is seen as a form of insurance against instability back home by wealthy foreigners, and many of the U.S.-born Chinese babies won’t retain their insurance past the age of 18, since China doesn’t permit dual citizenship into adulthood. Here’s hoping that at that age, a good number of those babies will choose to remain Americans, opt to study here, and become productive citizens whose taxes pay for my Social Security.

To be fair, presidential candidates aren’t the only ones unnecessarily raising alarms about birth tourism. Even though birth tourism isn’t illegal, federal law enforcement challenges pregnant mothers flying into the country about their intentions. There’s even a federal investigation of birth tourism in Southern California, which included recent raids of maternity hotels for birth tourists.

But as of this writing, no charges have been filed against the operators. News reports suggest that some maternity tourism businesses have committed financial crimes, but it’s fair to wonder if the feds are wasting money and time that they might otherwise spend on their usual pursuits, like prosecuting marijuana activity or collecting Americans’ meta data.

Strip away the rhetoric and rationalizations, and what you have is not a “problem” or an “issue,” but an unreasonable and unreasoning fear of babies. After all, babies and their immigrant parents represent everything we want and need as a country—a willingness to invest in the future, a commitment to risk-taking, striving for a better life.

So if you still have a problem with these babies, you have a problem with the American dream. Maybe you should consider emigrating.

Love it or leave it, baby.

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.

Rising Intermarriage, Fewer Jews

The Jewish population is aging and shrinking, its birthrate is falling, intermarriage is rising and most Jews do not engage in communal or religious pursuits.

Yet a majority attend a Passover seder and celebrate Chanukah, Jewish education is booming, and many Jews consider being Jewish important and feel strong ties to Israel.

These are not dueling headlines, but parallel portraits contained in the long-awaited National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) 2000-01. Federations and Jewish communal leaders use these studies every decade for policy and planning decisions.

The United Jewish Communities (UJC), the federation umbrella group, officially released the $6 million study this week, nearly a year after retracting initial NJPS data and delaying the survey’s release amid controversy over its methodology and missing data. A subsequent internal audit led to an independent review that UJC officials said should be made public by week’s end. But they and others said the study that emerged paints the most comprehensive, reliable picture of American Jewry to date.

Not only did the reviews reinforce the data’s validity, but the NJPS was compared to other communal studies and "our numbers checked out very nicely," said Lorraine Blass, NJPS project director and senior planner at UJC.

Those numbers add up to a complex Jewish continuum. On one end lies a small segment of the community experiencing a Jewish renaissance, on the other a majority that continues to assimilate. In the vast middle remain most Jews who engage in few Jewish pursuits.

"The big story is how the affiliated and the unaffiliated sharply differ on all measures of Jewish life," said Steven M. Cohen, a senior NJPS consultant and Hebrew University professor. "As a group, American Jews may be moving in two different directions simultaneously: increasing Jewish intensification alongside decreasing Jewish intensity. It may well be the most and least involved are gaining at the expense of those with middling levels of Jewish involvement."

While many of these findings did not change sharply from the last NJPS in 1990, some warned of troubling signs for the coming decade.

There was a drop in the population of Jewish children, especially in the 0-4 age bracket, and though the initial report did not contain the exact figure, it said 20 percent of the overall population were children, down 1 percent from a decade ago.

"In the next few years, there will be fewer Jewish children to go into Jewish schools and to bring their parents into synagogues," Cohen said.

David Marker, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee that consulted on the NJPS and a senior statistician at Westat, a statistics firm, agreed, but he said the trend underscores that Jews must face up to intermarriage now that it appears to be "stabilized."

Intermarriage is rising but at a steady pace, at 47 percent for the past five years. That represents a 4 percent increase from 1990, which was calculated differently. Of all Jews currently wed, one-third are intermarried.

"Intermarriage doesn’t have to be viewed as a negative," Marker said. "The Jewish community needs to do a better job of reaching out to the families of the intermarried, making them feel wanted and comfortable in Jewish institutions without pushing them away."

In the wake of the 1990 study, the volatile intermarriage issue took center stage, launching an ongoing debate over whether the community should spend money on reaching out to Jews on the fringes and the intermarried, or on "Jewish continuity" and identity building of more committed Jews.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, continues to advocate the latter. He calls the decline in Jewish numbers and the intermarriage rate "staggering." Groups such as his only succeed in getting an estimated 4,000 Jews "back" a year, he said, while 80,000 are "lost." That means the community should spend "serious" money on Jewish education and practice, since the 4.3 million that are considered "engaged" Jews remain mostly "marginally connected," Buchwald said noting that "the key to Jewish survival is Jewish practice."

On the other side of the debate stands those like Edmund Case, publisher of, which encourages Jewish connections in the interfaith community. Case said the community can increase the number of interfaith couples who raise their children as Jews.

According to the study, 33 percent of interfaith couples raise their children as Jews, compared to 96 percent of Jewish couples who do.

"I am less interested in the gross numbers and more interested in the qualitative experiences of interfaith families connecting with Jewish life," he said.

Beyond the debate over intermarriage, Cohen and others said the growing gap between active and inactive Jews remained a big hurdle for Jewish organizations such as Jewish community centers, synagogues and other institutions seeking to gain members.

"It’s a policy challenge, because it diminishes the sense of fluidity between the affiliated and unaffiliated," Cohen said. "We certainly have our job cut out for us."

Among the more active Jews, there were some surprises when it came to education. Day school enrollment is rising and 41 percent of college and graduate students said they had taken a Jewish studies course.

If nothing else, Cohen said the study’s measure of increased involvement in Jewish education will redouble communal support for such institutions.

"I am sure this study will encourage the investment of millions of charitable dollars into Jewish education," he said. "For that alone, the investment in NJPS was well worth it."

The NJPS surveyed 4,523 people, representing 28 percent of all those contacted between August 2000 and August 2001. UJC officials said the response rate was low but met guidelines in an industry where even prominent polling groups like Gallup are eliciting fewer respondents. Overall, the margin of error of the NJPS was plus or minus 2 percent.