Jeb Bush’s Attack On Asian Immigrants Backfires

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Two Asian anchors.

Lawmakers in the 48-member Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) are “strongly condemning” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) for ascribing his use of the pejorative term “anchor babies” to Asian immigrants.

On Monday, when told in Spanish that many Latinos consider the term “anchor babies” to be an offensive slur, Bush defended himself, saying that his critics should “chill out.” The GOP presidential candidate 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.”

Bush’s comments come at a time when the Republican presidential candidates are taking on more extreme and anti-immigrant positions to describe undocumented immigrants. Donald Trump was the first candidate to fully embrace the term “anchor baby,” while Bush has maintained that it isn’t offensive and he’ll keep using it until someone gives him a better word.

Several members of Congress aren’t pleased that Bush is trying to downplay the offensive nature of the term, which suggests that undocumented immigrant parents use their U.S. born children as an “anchor” to prevent them from being deported, by pivoting to the Asian community.

“As the representative of the only Asian American majority district in the continental United States, and as a proud American of Japanese descent, I strongly condemn these statements,” CAPAC Chair Emeritus and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) told ThinkProgress in an emailed statement. Honda and his family were thrown into a Japanese internment camp while his father served in the U.S. military during World War II.

Honda also stated that he considered the language to be a “slur against all immigrants” and that “The 14th Amendment of our Constitution guarantees citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, and we cannot stand by and let anyone diminish that right.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) considers Bush’s remarks to be “offensive, whether he is referencing Hispanic Americans or Asian Americans.” In an emailed statement to ThinkProgress, Takano added that “this type of language is being carelessly used by not just Governor Bush, but by a number of Republican presidential nominee front runners. The GOP needs to realize this is not about being politically correct. It is about treating American citizens with the respect they deserve.”

“No matter which ethnic group you’re referring to, ‘anchor babies’ is a slur that stigmatizes children from birth,” CAPAC Chair and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said in a statement. Chu is the first Chinese-American women elected to Congress. “We need a conversation that leads to a solution on visas and naturalization and seriously considers how we can integrate the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants already living and contributing here. 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 doesn’t matter which community the term is applied to,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) wrote in an emailed statement. Roybal-Allard is the first Latina congresswoman from California. “Throwing around dehumanizing insults is unworthy of those seeking our nation’s highest office. ”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who came to the United States as a young child, was similarly offended, stating, “Really Jeb? This is still remarkably offensive and out of touch, regardless of which group you’re referring to.”

The so-called “birth tourism” phenomenon — in which immigrant women travel to the United States to give birth so their babies will have U.S. citizenship — does happen, though infrequently. In March, Department of Homeland Security agents raided Southern California apartment complexes used as “maternity hotels” for Chinese women who wanted to give birth to babies born in the United States.

About 350,000 children are born to families where at least one parent is undocumented, a Pew Research Center study found in 2009. However, 61 percent of those parents arrived in the U.S. before 2004, 30 percent arrived from 2004 and 2007, and only 9 percent arrived from 2008 and 2010. Citizen children can only sponsor parents when they turn 21, two decades of uncertainty for undocumented parents who could still be flagged for deportation.

Though Bush’s comments has some narrow basis in reality, Asian immigrants in the United States have long been characterized as an invasion or a menace to the West. Propaganda posters of Chinese men raping white women were one of the central themes of the Yellow Peril after they were forcibly brought into the country as slaves. American sociologist Jesse F. Steiner said in 1917 that Japanese immigrants were an “immigrant invasion,” a continuing fear-mongering tactic that was brought up in the mid-20th century, when Japanese immigrants in California were lambasted as the “enemy within our gates,” University of Minnesota Professor Erika Lee wrote in The Making of Asian America.

Legal Asian immigration into the United States has faced a number of hurdles since 1882 when the U.S. immigration system excluded virtually all Asians from the country. According to the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), about 1.5 million Asian family members of U.S. citizens of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) families have to wait years to be reunited with their loved ones who are caught in lengthy family immigration backlogs.

UPDATE AUG 25, 2015 3:04 PM

This post has been updated to include comments from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA).

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