At a press conference on Monday in McAllen, Texas, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush hit back at reporter who challenged his use of the term “anchor babies” to describe U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents. When told, in Spanish, that many in the Latino community consider the term an offensive slur, Bush rolled his eyes and replied in Spanish: “Look, I know Hillary Clinton is attacking me for using that term, but it is ludicrous to suggest I’m using a derogatory term. What I was saying is that there are cases of real fraud in what we call ‘anchor babies.’ The parents organize to commit fraud and we have to enforce our laws.”
He added: “Frankly, it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children, and taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”
Though Bush cited Hillary Clinton by name, many people across the political spectrum have condemned his use of the term, from evangelical pastors to local Texas officials to spokespeople from conservative think tanks. Alfonso Aguilar with the American Principles Project compared the phrase to the n-word, while Rev. Samuel Rodriguez with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference called it “reprehensible.”
Asked Monday by another reporter, in Spanish, if he would apologize for using the term, he laughed and answered: “Why? Why do we have to be so rigid? I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness that says you have to be scolded every time you say something.”
The stance is a far cry from Bush’s rhetoric in 2014, when he broke from the harsh language of his party and said of undocumented immigrants: “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony; it’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”
On Monday, despite claiming that it’s “Asian people” who are “taking advantage” of U.S. laws, his McAllen press conference focused heavily on tough border enforcement, including increasing the number of surveillance drones. He also called for creating a “deterrent” to make sure more Central American children arrive seeking refuge in the U.S., but didn’t specify what that deterrent should be.