McALLEN, Texas — Jeb Bush’s tour of the communities along the U.S.-Mexico border Monday was supposed to be a trip to distinguish his immigration plan as more realistic and grown-up than those of his presidential opponents.
Instead, the former Florida governor was back defending what he really means when he says “anchor baby.”
Bush said that he used the term specifically to refer to fraud -- sometimes called "birth tourism" -- in a "specific, targeted kind of case" involving mothers who travel to the United States only to win citizenship for their unborn children.
“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 told reporters at a bustling Mexican restaurant just miles from the U.S. border.
Bush’s comments mark a shaky attempt to pivot away from the controversy surrounding his recent use of the term “anchor baby.” The phrase, considered offensive by many in the Latino community, typically refers to children born in the U.S. to non-citizens.
Celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump took to Twitter to point out Bush's "clumsy move," and accused him of sweepingly blaming Asians of birthright citizenship fraud.
Bush had already been criticized for using the term during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett last week, and then took more heat days later for doubling down on the remark. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton needled him on the issue over Twitter, offering up suggestions for better phrases to use in his campaign stump.
But Bush continued to dig in his heels, saying it was “ludicrous” that the term “anchor baby” would be considered derogatory.
“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 that somehow you have to be scolded every time you say something,” he said.
Bush had spent the day meeting with local leaders to talk about the issues for border towns, particularly striking a balance between allowing businesses to thrive through commerce with Mexico while ensuring that the border is secure.
He took aim at Trump, denouncing the Republican front-runner’s proposal to force Mexico to foot the bill for a wall to span the entire 2,000-mile southwestern border. Later, Bush's campaign released a video with a mashup of prominent conservative pundits who have criticized Trump’s plan as being “catastrophic.”
“Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles,” Bush said. “It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, it’s not realistic, it won’t be implemented and we need border security to be able to deal with getting this country back on track.”
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, took the opportunity Monday to liken Bush and Trump on immigration.
“Following Donald Trump's tour of the Texas border, Jeb Bush decided to follow his lead once again by touring the South Texas border to discuss his opposition to a pathway to citizenship and doubling down on the hateful term 'anchor babies' when describing the children of immigrants. The Jeb Bush that will visit the border today is not the same Jeb Bush that many in the Latino community thought they knew," Clinton campaign spokesman Jorge Silva said in a statement that accompanied a video response to Bush's border visit.
Earlier in the day, Bush attended a fundraising luncheon, where contribution levels were set as high as $15,000 to enter an elite group of GOP donors called the Texas Leadership Committee.
Bush was in familiar territory with deep-pocketed donors who hope to see his family’s dynasty retake the White House.
He is just the latest presidential candidate to visit the border in recent weeks, where issues of immigration and calls for tighter border security reign supreme.
“Border security means safety,” Bush supporter Belinda Rodriguez said at his event. “It means being able to sleep at night.”