Anchor baby is a pejorative term for a child born in the United States to a foreign national mother who was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. There is a popular misconception that the child’s U.S. citizenship status (acquired by jus soli) legally helps the child’s parents and siblings to quickly reclassify their visa status (or lack thereof) and to place them on a fast pathway to acquire lawful permanent residence and eventually United States citizenship. This is a myth. Current U.S. federal law prevents anyone under the age of 21 from being able to petition for their non-citizen parent to be lawfully admitted into the United States for permanent residence. So at best, the child’s family would need to wait for 21 years before being able to use their child’s US citizenship to modify their immigration status.
The term is generally used as a derogatory reference to the supposed role of the child, who automatically qualifies as an American citizen and can later act as a sponsor for other family members. The term is also often used in the context of the debate over illegal immigration to the United States to refer to children of illegal immigrants, but may be used for the child of any immigrant. A similar term, “passport baby”, has been used in Canada for children born through so-called “maternity” or “birth tourism”.