Jose Antonio Vargas on Reliable Sources: Why The Term "Anchor Baby" Is Offensive


Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and activist who is undocumented, argues against use of the phrase "anchor baby."

BRIAN STELTER, CNN: Let me bring in someone with strong feelings about this, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Jose Antonio Vargas, the editor of Emerging U.S., a Web site covering immigration and multiculturalism that works with "The L.A. Times".

Jose, good morning. Thanks for being here.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: Good morning. Emerging Us is launching next month. It's not completely live yet. But check it out.

STELTER: And it's with "The L.A. Times". It's part of an effort to cover this topic in greater detail.


STELTER: You would not use the phrase "anchor babies" on the website unless it's in quote marks attributed to a candidate. Is that right? VARGAS: Absolutely. I have to say, by the way, back to your original

point. I mean, I think we're seeing reporters are pushing back more and more, and demanding more context from politicians like Donald Trump. And we ought to be commended. You know, reporters ought to be commended who are doing that.

STELTER: Are they pushing back and giving context, or are they showing liberal bias using the phrase that the Democrats want them to use?

VARGAS: Oh, I don't know about liberal bias. I mean, if anything -- I have to say, by the way, Donald Trump always saying the term "politically correct", is it being politically correct or is it being morally decent? I mean, how shameful is it to call people just babies?

You know, when Jeb Bush was asking, give me a better term, well, what about babies? What about U.S. citizen babies? What about just kids? Why must call them (ph) anchor babies?

STELTER: Which is something that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats have said. But is it not correct that we do need to cover this debate, do need to acknowledge both sides of it, or do you not think there are two equal sides?

VARGAS: Well, I mean, there are not two equal sides. I mean, I think what's really sad about this, right -- I mean, as you said, reporters are getting better, but I think we must provide more context and more facts. For example, a lot of the conversation about illegal immigration that Donald Trump talks about is tied to Mexico. Does Donald Trump know, by the way, that the actual highest growing rate of undocumented population are from Asian countries? Not from Mexico, not from Central America but from Asian countries, since 2000, right? Is that a fact that Donald Trump knows?

Does he know that, out of the 40 million Mexican-Americans in this country, out of the 40 million, the great majority of them are U.S. citizens? And for them, when you use the term illegals and "anchor babies", you're offending a great majority of people in this country.

STELTER: That's part of the media calculation as well, right?

But let me show a few of the comments from conservative talk shows this week. Here is a sample of what I saw on TV.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By using the term "anchor baby" or is it the latest example of political correctness run amok?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who cares about the term itself? This is another example of the left trying to shut down debate by name-calling. You're a racist, be quiet. Let's not have the conversation.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This "anchor baby" stuff is a great illustration of how everybody gets distracted over silly, meaningless things.


And by silly and meaningless, I mean people on the left are offended by it. Well, so freaking what?


STELTER: Jose, what's your response to Rush Limbaugh saying this is a meaningless thing?

VARGAS: Well...

STELTER: We have seen that and I have heard that online as well from people who think this should not be being discussed, we should talk about the problem, not the language around it.

VARGAS: Well, words matter. Words matter.

And I have to tell you this. As you know, I have been traveling nonstop in our country for the past four years since outing myself as undocumented. And once people realize, by the way, that I'm Mexican, I'm Filipino, they feel totally fine calling people illegals in front of me and using the term Mexican and illegal interchangeably. Right?

Language matters here. And, by the way, this is not just about FOX News and Rush Limbaugh. "The New York Times" -- I just did a search on this in LexisNexis -- "The New York Times" in the past six months have used illegal immigrant like 8000 times -- I mean, actually, 300 times -- "The Washington Post" 800 times.

What is the responsibility of these news organizations, right, to actually determine what language it uses? When it calls people illegal, are they siding by Donald Trump? Are they siding by Ted Cruz or are they siding by whatever party?

Now, mind you, I'm neither a Democrat nor Republican. I'm undocumented. I can't vote. I don't think this is a right issue or a left issue. This is a human decency issue.

STELTER: You're saying it's about moral decency.

VARGAS: It -- look, what if we called one of your kids illegals? What if we called one of your kids anchor babies?

Now, in my view, by the way, at its very term, right, to call somebody anchor baby, when people come to this country, right, and they give birth to a U.S. citizen kid, it doesn't automatically make them American citizens. They have to wait years and years, if not decades, for that to happen.

Are you actually telling me that people are planning, oh, yes, I'm going to come to America, give birth to my children, and wait 20 years or so before I become a U.S. citizen? Do we actually think that's how people think about this?

STELTER: Well, that is the debate, isn't it? And that's the debate on the campaign trail that will continue.

But I'm thankful to you for helping illustrate what's happening in newsrooms, because these are the conversations that have been happening in recent days.

Jose, thanks for being here.

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