The idea that pregnant women are crossing the Mexican border in droves in an effort to make their babies American citizens is mostly untrue, so it’s fitting that this week’s debate over the so-called problem has already morphed into a less substantial dispute over the term “anchor babies.” Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and several other GOP candidates used the term this week, prompting objections from those who say it’s a slur. “Children are widely seen as innocent and pure … yet there is an unspoken racial element there, for children of color are all too often pictured as criminals or welfare cheats in training,” Ian Haney López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, told NBC News.
Unsurprisingly, the man who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists has no problem with the term. At a press conference on Wednesday, Donald Trump snapped at a reporter who said it’s offensive. “You mean it’s not politically correct, and yet everybody uses it?” he said. “I’ll use the word ‘anchor baby.’”
Also unsurprisingly, Bobby Jindal was quick to side with Trump in the controversy du jour. He told Fox News on Thursday that people are “too politically correct” and “too easily offended,” adding, “The real issue here — yeah, I’m happy to use the term — but the reality is the real issue here is we need to secure our border.”
Jeb Bush also doubled down on his decision to take a slightly more Trump-esque tone. On Thursday, Bush got testy when a reporter asked if he regrets referring to “anchor babies” in a radio interview on Wednesday. “No, I didn’t. I don’t! I don’t, regret it!” Bush said. “Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it. Don’t yell at me behind my ear, though.” He dismissed the suggested phrase “children born of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.” as too clunky and noted that he merely said they’re “commonly referred to” as “anchor babies.” “I didn’t use it as my own language,” Bush said.
“From the depths of my heart, I look at someone like Jeb Bush, who really should know better and that all I can think of is the Spanish term, sinvergüenza, which means somebody who is completely without shame to attack children this way,” Representative Linda Sanchez, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told NBC News.
As the New York Times recently noted, “anchor baby” isn’t the only derogatory term making a comeback in the 2016 race. During the 2013 immigration debate there was a push for media outlets and politicians to stop using the “I-word,” yet there was a question about “illegals” in the first GOP debate, and the preferred term “undocumented immigrants” has not caught on with Republicans.
Still, not everyone is embracing “anchor baby.” When asked about the issue in a CNBC interview published Thursday, Marco Rubio took the opportunity to show he’s more compassionate than his rivals on the immigration issue. “Well, these are 13 million — those are human beings,” he said. “And ultimately, they are people. They are not just statistics. They are human beings with stories.”