Jeb Bush on Wednesday received more criticism for his “anchor babies” remarks, this time from Asian-American leaders who said Bush was insulting them to deflect from the backlash he was receiving from Hispanic voters.
Bush first used the term during a radio interview last week in reference to children born in the United States to people who come into the country illegally for the purpose of giving birth and automatically receiving birthright citizenship protections.
Hispanic groups immediately pounced on Bush, with influential Latino leaders such as Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa releasing statements saying Bush’s use of the term is “disgusting” and that he “owes million of U.S. citizens, Latinos, and immigrants an apology.”
And Bush presumably should have known better. In addition to being married to a Mexican-American and writing a book about immigration, Bush previously chaired the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network, which issued a memo advising Republicans about the proper language when talking about immigration.
“When talking about immigrants: Do use ‘undocumented immigrant’ when referring to those here without documentation,” according to the memo. “Don’t use the word ‘illegals’ or ‘aliens.’ Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby.'”
Political analysts attributed Bush’s about-face as a response to and effort to catch up with Donald Trump, who, as frontrunner, is leading Bush by double digits and himself released an immigration plan last week calling to repeal birthright citizenship. Trump’s plan is to crack down on people who enter the United States illegally to have what he termed “anchor babies.”
But following the backlash from the Latino community, a voting block that is critical for any GOP candidate hoping to have any chance of winning the general election, Bush said he was not referring to Hispanics he was referring to Asians.
“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, and in those organized efforts taking advantage of a noble concept which is birthright citizenship,” Bush said during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
He said he was referring to the practice of “birth tourism,”in which groups of Chinese women pay agencies to bring them to the United States to have babies so they can grow up as U.S. citizens.
“No matter which ethnic group you’re referring to, ‘anchor babies’ is a slur that stigmatizes children from birth,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who leads the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement Wednesday. “All that is accomplished through talk of anchor-babies be they from Latin America, Asia, Europe, or Africa is to use xenophobic fears to further isolate immigrants. It’s time for our country to return to a substantive discussion on immigration.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate and currently the only senator of Asian heritage, described Bush’s comments as “stunningly offensive and out of touch.”
Following Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, Republicans performed a so-called “autopsy” of the campaign to identify mistakes and devise strategies to reconnect with voters alienated by the party. Among the key priorities were the critical need to engage the Latino community, as well as Asian-American voters.
Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and are becoming more politically active. In fact, immigration is one of the top issues for Asian voters, many of whom are beneficiaries of birthright citizenship.
“Asian-Americans are actually the canary in the coal mine, I believe, for Republicans,” Bush said in 2013. “If we have lost connectivity to emerging voters, not because of our policies so much, but because we are not engaged in issues of importance to them, then I think we pay a price.”
In response to criticism from Asian-Americans, Bush on Tuesday said he was referring to “a very narrowcasted system of fraud” when he suggested that Asian immigrants are most responsible for “anchor babies.”
At one point during his defense of his word choice, Bush snapped at reporters, asking them to give him a “better” word to use.
Hillary Clinton responded on Twitter with: “How about ‘babies,’ ‘children,’ or ‘American citizens.'”