US Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Monday said his use of the term “anchor babies” to describe US-born children of non-citizen parents was taken out of context and not derogatory, saying he was referring solely to activity he views as fraudulent.
During a news conference in McAllen, Texas, which is close to the border with Mexico, Jeb Bush said it was “ludicrous” to suggest his use of the phrase in a radio interview last week was offensive to immigrants, and he blamed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton for the fracas.
“I was focusing on a specific, targeted kind of case where people are organizing to bring pregnant women into the country” to have children, Bush said. “That’s fraud.”
The former Florida governor sounded frustrated to have to address the issue again after telling reporters last week he did not regret using the term because he did not know of a better one.
Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico and who answered some questions in Spanish, said his background should convince Americans that his remarks were taken out of context.
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.
The U.S. Constitution grants citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil, regardless of parentage. Immigration critics sometimes use “anchor babies” to describe U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, usually from Latin America. Immigration groups say the phrase is offensive.
Some Republicans seeking the nomination for the November 2016 election, including Donald Trump, have criticized across-the-board birthright citizenship. Bush called it a “noble concept.”
Jeb Bush said his initial comments referred to Asian people. 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.
After Jeb Bush used the phrase last week, Clinton criticized it, tweeting, “They’re called babies.”
Bush said that interpretation was unfair.
“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,” he said.