Former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has come under fire after he said it was "ludicrous" to describe his use of the term "anchor babies" as offensive to immigrants. His original comments, he explained Monday, were not about Hispanics but instead referred to Asians coming to the United States to give birth.
That attempt to clarify his position has seemingly done little to mitigate the anger of immigrant groups, merely shifting the source of criticism from Hispanics to Asian-Americans.
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) responded to the comment by issuing a statement that read, "Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities continue to be discriminated against as part of larger anti-immigrant rhetoric."
"We urge lawmakers to instead focus on developing humane legislative solutions to reform our broken immigration system," the coalition said Monday.
Speaking to reporters on Monday in Texas, who asked Bush whether using the "anchor babies" term in a radio interview last week could affect his ability to win Hispanic votes, the White House hopeful said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that his comments would be viewed "as derogatory towards immigrants at all." The use of the term was also criticized by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"What I was talking about," Bush said, "was the specific case of fraud being committed where there's organized efforts — 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."
Native-born children of immigrants — even those living illegally in the U.S. — have been automatically given American citizenship since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868. But children cannot sponsor their parents for citizenship until they turn 21.
California congresswoman Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said the use of "anchor baby," a term sometimes used by critics of immigration to describe U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, is a slur that "stigmatizes children from birth."
"All that is accomplished through talk of 'anchor babies' — be they from Latin America, Asia, Europe or Africa — is to use xenophobia to further isolate immigrants. It’s time for our country to return to a substantive discussion on immigration," Chu said in a statement.
The comments also sparked several responses on social media.
Mazie Hirono, a Democratic U.S. senator from Hawaii who was born in Japan, tweeted that Bush's comments were "stunningly offensive" and "out of touch."
Bush said he was referring to fraud by families seeking to have their children born in the U.S. to guarantee citizenship. He said stricter enforcement of immigration laws would help resolve the problem and repeated his opposition to any move to deny U.S. citizenship to those born in America.
Federal agents earlier this year described "maternity tourism" schemes in which wealthy foreign women, particularly from China, travel to the United States to give birth so their children will have U.S. citizenship.
Republicans have identified illegal immigration as a key topic for primary voters, but they want to avoid driving away Hispanic voters whose support they will need against the eventual Democratic nominee.
Meanwhile, an analysis by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 65 percent of Asian-Americans identified themselves as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 23 percent, who identified as or leaned Republican. That makes Asian-Americans the second strongest constituency for Democrats behind African-Americans.
“In 2013, Jeb Bush noted that Asian-Americans are the 'canaries in the coal-mine' for Republicans, meaning that Republicans should be worried about having lost Asian-American support over the years. Unfortunately, Bush seems to have lost sight of his own advice. His comments are getting widely noticed among Asian-American voters, and could hurt the GOP’s chances in the presidential election,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at UC Riverside and immigration policy expert, told MSNBC.
Some Republicans seeking the 2016 presidential nomination, including Donald Trump, have criticized across-the-board birthright citizenship.
Al Jazeera and wire services