Peter Dutton's critical label for Tamil children facing deportation

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has referred to the children in a Tamil asylum-seeker family facing deportation as "anchor babies".

Mr Dutton said the family's long-running fight for Australian protection had cost taxpayers "literally millions of dollars".

"It's been made very clear to them at every turn that they were not going to stay in Australia and they still had children," Mr Dutton told 2GB radio on Thursday.

"We see that overseas in other countries – anchor babies, so-called – and the emotion of trying to leverage a migration outcome based on the children."

The Sri Lankan couple came separately to Australia by boat several years ago before marrying, having two children and settling in the central Queensland town of Biloela.

Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Tharunicaa, 2, (left) and Kopika, 4. Source: AAP

They are now in detention on Christmas Island as the Federal Court decides whether the youngest child is eligible for protection in Australia.

Labor's home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally first raised the prospect of debate around the Biloela family straying into "anchor baby" territory during an ABC radio interview last week.

"This is an importation, quite frankly, of an American debate about so called 'anchor babies' and the law is very different in the United States where citizenship is accorded to anybody born on American soil," she said.

"That is not the law in Australia so it's an importation of that debate."

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton called the children of the Tamil family facing deportation 'anchor babies'. Source: AAP

Senator Keneally said the real issue at hand was that Biloela locals and Australians more broadly had embraced the family and wanted to integrate them into the community.

"It's not simply the act of having a child," she said.

Mr Dutton said the latest legal challenge would take some time to resolve.

"I think it will go on now for potentially a couple of months because lawyers will try and delay and that's part of the tactic," he said.

"They think that if they delay they can keep the pressure up on the government and we'll change our mind in relation to this case."

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play and stay up to date with the latest news with Yahoo’s daily newsletter. Sign up here.