Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

Asian-American leaders call on Bush to apologize for 'anchor baby' comments

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, DC, December 1, 2014.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, DC, December 1, 2014.

Asian-American leaders Tuesday blasted presidential candidate Jeb Bush's latest use of the term "anchor babies."

 Los Angeles-area Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-California) called the term a "slur" and asked Bush to apologize.

Bush has been using the word in recent weeks, most notably in a radio interview last week.

Monday, in an attempt to defend his words, he told a crowd in Texas that his complaint is with so-called "maternity tourism."

"What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there's organized efforts," he said. "And frankly, it's more related to Asian people, coming into our country, and having children, in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”

But the remark only served to spark fresh controversy.

"It’s insulting to both the Latino and the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and I believe…that he owes the AAPI community an apology for his inseitivie remarks," Chu told KPCC.

The term "anchor babies" has long been used as a pejorative to refer to the children of unauthorized immigrants. It comes from the idea that children born as U.S. citizens on U.S. soil will get their parents in line for legal status, although in reality, these children would have to sponsor their parents when they become adults, and there are no guarantees.

In the past, politicians who took aim at birthright citizenship typically targeted immigrants from Latin America. But not any more. This  might be thanks to recent media attention devoted to cases of “maternity tourism” from Asia.

“It’s a pretty small phenomenon, but it’s getting a disproportionate amount of attention," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at UC Riverside.

In a high-profile case earlier this year, federal authorities raided more than a dozen homes in Southern California tied to an alleged “maternity tourism” ring. Its leaders allegedly recruited wealthy women on tourist visas from China who wanted their children born in the United States, so that their children could have U.S. citizenship. Several arrests have been made since.

But as Ramakrishman points out, these incidents aren’t common.

Karin Wang of the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice called the shift in the political messaging troubling - and said there's an irony to it.

"I think Asian Americans are starting to perceive that we are being attacked as an immigrant community," Wang said. "I think it signals, ironically, that we have arrived, that people are actually paying attention to us. At the same time, they don't necessarily take out community and its issues seriously."

The 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees U.S. citizenship to those born on U.S. soil.

It's not the first time Asian Americans have been part of the birthright citizenship debate: How the 14th Amendment is interpreted today is based on a Supreme Court decision from the late 19th century that stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Wong Kim Ark, the U.S.-born son of Chinese immigrants. He sued the government when he was denied re-entry to the United States after visiting his parents in China - and won.