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Jeb Bush Draws Fire for Blaming Asians in ‘Anchor Baby’ Debate

Image: Jeb Bush

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaks at the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Charlie Neibergall / AP

Nearly a week after Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump called for an end to birthright citizenship, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush Monday narrowed the scope of the controversial term “anchor baby,” when he told reporters it was “more related” to Asians entering the United States to give birth to children who, by law, automatically become American citizens.

“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 effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship,” Bush said yesterday at a campaign event in McAllen, Texas.

Jeb Bush Takes on 'Trump's Wall' and 'Anchor Babies' 2:59

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a DC-based civil rights coalition founded in 1996, responded quickly to Bush's comments with a scathing statement, condemning "the use of the derogatory term 'anchor babies.'"

“From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and legislative attempts to overturn United States v. Wong Kim Ark to now calling us ‘anchor babies,’ Asian American and Pacific Islander communities continue to be discriminated against as part of larger anti-immigrant rhetoric,” the group said in a statement Monday, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1898 that ruled a child born to Chinese citizens living the U.S. automatically became an American citizen.

Related: The Case at the Heart of the Birthright Citizenship Battle

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, accused Bush and others who use the term "anchor babies," of using "xenophobic fears to further isolate immigrants."

"The problem with our immigration system is not birthright citizenship," Chu said in a statement. "The problem is a broken immigration system that forces families to live apart or live in fear."

The OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates said Bush had now "doubled down on his original insensitivity" by characterizing Asians as a group looking to take advantage of the immigration system.

"This faulty rhetoric makes millions of law-abiding Asians a target for anti-immigrant and xenophobic attitudes, which will help spread the myth that Asian Americans are somehow less American than white Americans," said OCA National President Michael W. Kwan in a statement.

Fellow GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump joined the chorus of criticism, tweeting Tuesday morning that Bush had jumped one from political gaffe to another.

"In a clumsy move to get out of his 'anchor babies' dilemma, where he signed that he would not use the term and now uses it," Trump wrote, "he blamed ASIANS."

But just how many pregnant women from Asian countries come to America to give birth in hopes of applying for U.S. residency when their children turn 21?

The answer is not so clear. Making it difficult to get a handle on these numbers is the murky underworld of the birth tourism industry itself, which attracts expectant mothers from around the world who legally apply for -- and are granted -- travel visas and pay upwards of $50,000 to stay at facilities called “maternity hotels,” where they receive food and lodging, among other amenities, before and after they give birth on U.S. soil. The Fourteenth Amendment, at the center of the debate on birthright citizenship, automatically makes the newborn a U.S. citizen.

Related: Maternity Hotel Raids Enmesh Chinese Tradition in Controversy

One affidavit from an alleged fraud case in March, when federal authorities raided 20 maternity hotels in California primarily serving Chinese women, cited a law review article that said there were between 40,000 and 300,000 children born annually to foreign citizens in the U.S. as a result of birth tourism, according to the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times’ article notes that Taiwanese, Korean and Turkish mothers have been known to practice birth tourism, but that lately it has become increasingly popular with wealthy Chinese women.

Chinese-language newsoutlets, including the World Journal, a popular Chinese-language newspaper published in the U.S., have quoted figures from the Globe, a magazine published by China’s government-run Xinhua News Agency, that has said the number of Chinese women coming to America for childbirth increased from 600 in 2007 to more than 10,000 in 2012. They also cited data from a non-governmental organization that claimed these numbers could rise to between 50,000 and 60,000 in 2015. The article did not note how the statistics were compiled.

Image: Jeb Bush
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is under fire for comments he made about the term "anchor babies" referring to the Asian population. Paul Vernon / AP