Editor's note: "Anchor babies," the derogatory term for those who receive citizenship of a country by being born there, are a trending topic right now thanks to Donald Trump, who has vowed to end birthright citizenship if elected president.
Trump has stated that birthright citizenship, or "jus soli," which is currently protected under the fourteenth amendment to the US constitution, could be easily axed by calling for a re-interpretation of the fourteenth amendment. You can watch him and Bill O'Reilly go head-to-head on the issue in the video below.
Irish folks can't really feel superior or ridicule Donald Trump for the anchor babies ban that he is seeking.
Ireland voted to end birthright citizenship in 2004. Prior to this, it was the last country in the European Union to allow it. Here's a look at how it happened.
In June 2004, the Irish people voted to amend the Constitution to change the laws on citizenship and eliminate the automatic right to citizenship for anyone born in Ireland.
I would have completely forgotten about that vote if I hadn't been seeing so much comment on the so-called "anchor babies" in the American media.
The campaign wasn't all that contentious (or it would have been more memorable). The two biggest parties were in favor of the change, but some of the smaller parties were opposed. There was some debate in the media and we had the usual election poster slogans to try to energize the voters.
In the early 2000s, there were many stories in the media about "non-national" women coming to Ireland to have their babies here in order that their babies have Irish (and, thus, EU) citizenship. We didn't have the phrase "anchor baby" – "maternity tourism" was tossed around a bit – but the basic premise was the same: women were coming to Ireland to have babies so that they could stay in Ireland or any other EU state.
During the campaign leading up to the vote the Minister for Health referenced these well-known anecdotes when he implied that "maternity tourism" (and not government mismanagement) was the reason our national health system's maternity facilities were so stretched. Those leading the 'No' campaign asserted that there were no facts or figures to back up any of the "maternity tourism" claims, but the general impression stuck.
The 'No' side claimed that racism was at the core of the 'Yes' campaign. This caused former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, then the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to reply that some of those in the 'No' campaign were "congenitally incapable of dealing with this issue without losing their head."
In addition to those direct arguments, there were hints and opaque references to possible tensions with Britain thanks to our liberal citizenship laws. We heard that refugees and illegal immigrants resident in Britain were flying in to have their babies in Belfast, which automatically entitled the baby to Irish (& EU) citizenship, something not available to them in Britain.
Given all the talk in America about this "anchor baby" issue, that might be the most interesting aspect of the Irish experience. Prior to the 2004 referendum, Ireland was out of line not only with the United Kingdom, but with every other member of the European Union.
However, thanks to that June 2004 referendum Ireland's citizenship laws are now consistent with those in all EU member states. That is, no EU country automatically grants citizenship to those born within its boundaries. There are no longer any EU "anchor babies."
Should the United States end birthright citizenship? Do you think changing the interpretation of the fourteenth amendment, as Donald Trump wants to do, is a realistic idea? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.
*Originally published August 2010