Jeb Bush struggled Monday to explain his position on birthright citizenship, suggesting that his use of the term anchor babies was directed not at Hispanics but rather at Asians.
"What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed," Bush told reporters during an immigration-focused press conference in McAllen, Texas. "Frankly it's more related to Asian people [who are] coming into our country, having children, and ... taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship."
The remark may muddy a border visit designed to juxtapose the GOP presidential candidate's platform on immigration with that of Donald Trump, who has proposed building a massive wall along the southern border and forcing Mexico to foot the bill. Trump's hard-line stance on immigration has prompted his rivals to lurch to the right. That includes Bush, who has long been a champion of immigration reform and touted his own multicultural family as a strength of his candidacy.
The former Florida governor's use of the epithet was a sharp departure for Bush, who throughout his campaign has called for the GOP to adopt a more inclusive tone. It was a potential liability in his quest to woo Hispanic voters.
Bush pushed back against the notion that his use of anchor baby was pejorative, and said the criticism that ensued was politically driven. "My background, my life, the fact that I’m 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. "I support the 14th Amendment. Nothing I’ve said should be viewed as derogatory toward immigrants at all."
Federal authorities have been investigating reports of a budding Chinese "birth tourism" industry, in which mothers are alleged to have traveled to the U.S. to give birth, then returned home with infants who are newly minted American citizens. But redirecting the focus toward Asians may be equally damaging, given that the group sided with Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign in roughly the same numbers as Latinos.
Taking another page from Trump's playbook, Bush shrugged off the backlash as a symptom of a system in which political correctness runs amok.
"This is all how politics plays," he said. "And by way, I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness that somehow you have to be scolded every time you say something. It’s not fair to be taken out of context. That’s the nature of politics, but I just don’t think that this is appropriate."