Jeb Bush Clarifies his Position on “Anchor Babies”: “It’s more related to Asian[s].”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. (Photo credit: M. Spencer Green / AP Photo)
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. (Photo credit: M. Spencer Green / AP Photo)

Snoopy believes Jeb Bush — son of the country’s 41st president and brother to the country’s 43rd president — will ultimately emerge as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee next year. So it is with particular interest that I watch Bush’s statements on the crowded Republican primary campaign trail right now: what Bush says now could come back to haunt him in the fall of 2016.

Consistent with this prediction, Bush appears to be running in the Republican primary season as a middle-of-the-road conservative. For the most part, he has rejected the radical ideas of his primary opponents, and instead has issued statements designed to ensure appeal to moderate voters in the general election. When Donald Trump declared last week that he would back trade embargos against Mexico and a Constitutional amendment to reduce or eliminate the birthright citizenship standard, most of the other Republican candidates followed suit; Jeb broke from the pack with an ardent support of birthright citizenship as “a constitutional right”.

Just when I was on the verge of writing a post titled “Jeb Bush: The Voice of Reason”, however, Bush couldn’t help but remind us that he’s still running in a primary race that has become little more than a clown car of hate. Asked to clarify and defend his use of the term “anchor babies” — a term referring to the US-born children of immigrants who have American citizenship by birthright, and a phrase that is implicitly racist and derogatory when used by Republicans — Bush told a reporter yesterday that he doesn’t use the phrase in reference to Latino immigrants.

According to Bush, the problem is Asians.

From a transcript first published on Daily Kos (emphasis added):

REPORTER: Do you worry that using the term “anchor babies” could affect your ability to win the Hispanic vote?

BUSH: No. Look, as I said in Spanish, my background, my life, uhh, the fact that I’m immersed in the immigrant experience…this is, this is ludicrous for the Clinton Campaign and others to suggest that somehow I’m using a derogatory term. What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed, where there’s organized efforts, and frankly, it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in that organized efforts, taking advantage of a noble concept with birthright citizenship. I support the fourteenth amendment. Nothing about what I’ve said should be viewed as derogatory towards immigrants at all. This is all how politics plays, and by the way, I think
we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness…

It goes without saying that whether Bush or other Republicans are referring to Latino or Asian immigrants, the kind of xenophobic race-baiting that has come to characterize how the Rightwing is debating undocumented immigrants and “anchor babies” is fucking racist and should not stand.

But, in this instance, Bush is referring to the phenomenon of birth tourism, wherein wealthy (predominantly Chinese) parents pay as much as $80,000 US to travel abroad — whether to America, Hong Kong, Canada, or other countries — and give birth. If successful, the child may be granted citizenship and/or other rights in that country.

Let’s start by saying this: birth tourism is basically legal. There are no immigration restrictions that specifically prohibit a pregnant non-American from entering the United States on a visa, as a prospective immigrant or as a tourist. Pausing for a moment to contemplate this issue, one immediately wonders how one could legally (never mind morally) enact travel restrictions based on pregnancy status. Common sense dictates that pregnant women should be legally free to travel internationally, and that no country could or should restrict their movement based on their reproductive status. In federal crackdowns on birth tourism rings earlier this year, federal officials focused not on the pregnant tourists, but on ring organizers who were accepting thousands of dollars tax-free to facilitate the entry and housing of those expectant mothers on American soil.

I’m generally somewhat disdainful of birth tourism mainly because, in China — from where many birth tourists hail — it is a manifestation of class privilege. But, also because this is a practice limited in China only to members of the super-rich elite class, based on sheer numbers alone birth tourism is not a major contributing factor to the undocumented immigrant population in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Although a growing phenomenon, birth tourism remains economically inaccessible to most Chinese parents. Furthermore, exact numbers regarding the impact of Chinese birth tourism are hard to come by. In 2012, Chinese state media estimated that 10,000 Chinese national women gave birth in the United States — this number is widely reported, but clearly we cannot assume that all or most of these women did so in relation to the birth tourism industry. But, even if we were to make that assumption, this figure still represents only a fraction of a percentage of the total estimated number of American children of undocumented immigrants, and even smaller fraction of a percentage of pregnant Chinese women who give birth each year. Therefore, even if we agree that there is some compelling public concern with regard to the American citizen children of immigrants (the so-called “anchor baby problem”, which for the record I do not think is a legitimate problem of any kind), focusing on birth tourism as a way to frame this particular issue in the American context is nonsensical.

Bush, and others who decry birth tourism, argue that Asian birth tourist mothers are “taking advantage” of America’s birthright citizenship standard. They suggest that these American citizen babies of birth tourists are born handed a host of benefits scammed or stolen from the American taxpayer. Writes The Fiscal Times:

Enticements included not only the opportunity to acquire automatic citizenship for their children – a package of free schooling, food, health and retirement benefits potentially worth millions of dollars – but also more mundane attractions like nannies, trips to Disneyland and fancy restaurants.

This argument is absurd on its face, and fails to pass the smell test. Every child born on American soil is a birthright citizen: none is simply handed a whole bunch of free shit upon birth. Conservatives would have us panic over an imagined epidemic of American citizen children of tourists taking advantage of American social security, Medicare/Medicaid, public schools, welfare, and food stamps — all programs administered to Americans at the local level — even though most of those children return with their parents overseas. When the Fiscal Times goes on to point to American citizenship conferring benefits of “nannies, trips to Disneyland and fancy restaurants”, I have to wonder if those benefits are likely to be enjoyed by these children because they are American citizens. Or, is it more likely that parents wealthy enough to foot an $80,000 birth tourism bill are also likely wealthy enough to afford a live-in nursemaid?

The motivations of Chinese birth tourists are mixed, and often don’t align directly with a desire to engage in predatory scamming of the American legal system. As reported on in numerous sources, many Chinese birth tourists travel overseas to give birth for many reasons, including circumvention of China’s One Child Policy. Other parents become birth tourists not to gain access for their child to America’s social services, but in hopes of obtaining an American passport for their new son or daughter. Because of America’s broad array of international treaties, a person with an American passport might face less restricted travel to other countries compared to someone holding a Chinese passport.

Regardless of their reasons of travel, birth tourists and their children could hardly be characterized as American freeloaders: unlike many other countries, America requires all its citizens to pay taxes, even if they live or work abroad. The so-called “anchor babies” of birth tourists aren’t getting “free schooling, food, health and retirement benefits”. Even were the American children of birth tourists to access those social services, those benefits will not be free; the American children of birth tourists will be required to pay American taxes for so long as they decide to hold their American citizenship.

But of course Bush and other Republicans who sound the alarms of the “anchor baby problem” don’t care about these details; they are instead only interested in playing to nativist fears of a diversifying America. When Bush clarifies that his problem with regard to “anchor babies” is Asian mothers, he’s engaging in dogwhistle politics: he is sowing the seeds of misogynistic Yellow Peril fears of an impending deluge of Asian immigrant women and their Asian babies.

This kind of sexist race-baiting has historical precedent. Since Asian American women first set foot on American soil, we have been smeared with the presumption that we are a sexual and reproductive threat to America. Nearly a decade before the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese women were popularly decried as “undesirable” on the presumption that we were all diseased, morally bankrupt prostitutes who preyed on White men and their families. Using this anti-Asian sexism, we were barred from entry into America by the Page Act of 1875. From Wikipedia, citing scholarly sources:

Many of those in favor of Chinese exclusion were not worried about the experiences and needs of poor Chinese girls that were being sold or tricked into prostitution, but about “the fate of white men, white families, and a nation constructed as white”.[7] Chinese men hurt white men’s ability to earn money, “while Chinese women caused disease and immorality among white men”.[8]

More recently, the supposed danger of Asian mothers giving birth to Asian babies was cited as justification for passage of multiple anti-abortion laws around the country, and it is pregnant Asian immigrant women who have been disproportionately targeted in the enforcement of feticide laws in Indiana.

In 2013, Jeb Bush presciently suggested that Asian Americans are a tantalizing voting bloc to grow the Republican leadership, and warned about the perils of alienating our community’s voters. He said:

“Here is a group that has higher intact families, more entrepreneurial, higher than average incomes, higher college graduation rates,” Bush said when describing the reasons the Republican Party should be attractive to Asian Americans.

“Asian Americans are actually the canary in the coal mine, I believe, for Republicans,” Bush continued. “If we have lost connectivity to emerging voters, not because of our policies so much, but because we are not engaged in issues of importance to them, then I think we pay a price.”

I can think of nothing more alienating to the average Asian American voter than resurrecting centuries-old nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric about the sexual and reproductive dangers supposedly posed to the sanctity and safety of (implicitly, White) America by an influx of Asian immigrant women.

Yesterday, I urged Asian American voters to pushback against Republican race-baiting with our vote. Should Jeb Bush become the Republican nominee for president next year, I urge you in particular to not forget this moment when he brought the Republican hate train right to the doorstep of the Asian American community.

Related: In response to Jeb Bush’s comments, yesterday blogger Jason Fong (@jasonfongwrites) started an incredible hashtag — #MyAsianAmericanStory — and encouraged Asian Americans to share their own stories of citizenship, immigration, love, survival, tragedy and triumph. Watching this hashtag spread has been heart-warming and empowering. I urge you to read, participate, retweet, and share.

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  • Myra Esoteric

    “American passport might face less restricted travel to other countries compared to someone holding a Chinese passport”

    Or Indian, or Nigerian, or Iranian. It’s much more nefarious and not just divided based on race (for example, Taiwan does not face many travel restrictions). I strongly recommend that you look up the origins of this phenomenon. It’s very colonialistic and all about hegemony.

  • Mustard Dawg

    How odd that Jeb would think education draws people to the Republican party!