WASHINGTON -- GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush claimed on Monday that his use of the term “anchor babies” was not offensive because he was referring to the practice of people, primarily Asians, coming to the U.S. and “taking advantage” of birthright citizenship.
Bush used the term last week in an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett in reference to "birth tourism," which is the growing phenomenon of groups of Chinese women paying agencies to bring them to the U.S. to have their babies so that they can grow up as American citizens.
"If there's fraud or if there's abuse, if people are bringing pregnant women ... to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement," he said to Bennett. "That's the legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, 'anchor babies,' as they're described, coming into the country."
Bush clarified his position on a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border Monday, during which he met with local leaders to discuss his immigration and border security platform.
“What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed, where there’s organized efforts, and frankly it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship,” he said.
When a reporter asked him if he thought his use of the term "anchor baby" would hurt his support among Hispanic and Latino voters, he dismissed the question:“Nothing about what I said should be viewed as derogatory toward immigrants at all,” he said.
In continuing to shrug off his use of the term, he said that people should “chill out,” and accused his opponents and the media of waging a war on political correctness and taking his comments out of context, even though "anchor baby" is typically used as a derogatory description of the children of undocumented immigrants.
Bush also defended his use of the term at a town hall in New Hampshire last Thursday, and argued that it wasn’t offensive and said he did not regret using it. Soon after, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign seized on his remarks, tweeting that a better term would be “children,” and sent supporters a text message of his comments.
“As I said in Spanish, my background, my life, the fact I’ve been immersed in the immigrant experience, this is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I’m using a derogatory term,” Bush said Monday.
The term “anchor babies” and the recent wave of Republican presidential candidates calling for an end to birthright citizenship is likely to offend Asian immigrants, just as it offended Hispanic immigrants. Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the country and are becoming more politically active, making up 3.4 percent of the electorate in 2012. Immigration is one of the top issues for Asian voters, and many of them are beneficiaries of birthright citizenship.
Historically, a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric and moves to end birthright citizenship have stemmed from a backlash against Asian immigrants. Anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant in the United States in the late 19th century, as many people worried that these "racially inferior" individuals would take jobs away from hardworking Americans. Those fears led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which essentially stopped Chinese immigration and barred Chinese residents of the U.S. from becoming citizens.
Officials also tried to stop the American-born children of Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens. But in 1898 the Supreme Court affirmed in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that immigrants' children born in the United States are entitled to citizenship.
Watch Bush's comments above.