'Anchor Baby' Controversy: American Heritage Dictionary To Add Label to Pejorative Term

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, responding to criticism for including "anchor baby" in its latest edition, will add a label identifying the politically-charged term either as "derogatory" or "offensive."

The change comes after, a project of the nonprofit American Immigration Council, questioned the inclusion of the "anchor baby" definition without describing its pejorative nature:

The degree to which the immigration debate has coarsened over the last few years is no more evident than in the pages of the recently released fifth edition of the New American Heritage Dictionary. Among the new entries is the term 'anchor baby.' You might think that the definition would read something like: slang, a pejorative description of a child born in the United States to parents without legal status, implying that the parents intend to leverage the child's citizenship to 'anchor' their own presence in the U.S. You would be wrong.

The online version of the American Heritage Dictionary defines "anchor baby" as:

"A child born to a noncitizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of their family."

Over the weekend, reported that Steven Kleinedler, the dictionary's executive editor, said a "swift and careful revision" of the term's use was under way. American Heritage Dictionary, he said, was "adding a label ... either derogatory or offensive, which I acknowledge should have been done in the first place, and we will determine how to revise the definition."

Kleinedler added, "Then on Monday we begin making the actual change -- first on the website, and then we begin propagating the change out to the electronic products and in the next printing.”

Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, which handles research and policy for the American Immigration Council, wrote that "anchor baby" was "a wholly American" creation "mired in the politics of anti-immigrant rhetoric."

Giovagnoli wrote: "Those who use it are not in the business of clinically describing some sort of sociological phenomena. They are instead intent on suggesting that people come to the country illegally and deliberately have babies in order to use their children's citizenship to acquire legal status of their own.

Second, the New American Heritage Dictionary's definition ignores the very specific intent of the term and, in fact, gives it more credibility by treating it as some sort of universal description of children who acquire citizenship at birth. This masks the poisonous and derogatory nature of the term, a term which demeans both parent and child and in the process suggests that it is acceptable to call a child born in the U.S. -- i.e. an American citizen-- an 'anchor baby.'"

In the political campaign season, the phrase "anchor baby" -- long a source of controversy -- has become popular in the argot of anti-immigrant hardliners.

When a Latino student recently asked Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann what she would do with children of undocumented immigrants, she said they shouldn't be granted citizenship. She said she "would not do anything" for them. At another campaign stop, she talked about passing a law to bar citizenship to U.S.-born children whose parents are undocumented.

"We've got to end this anchor baby program," she said.