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Jeb Bush: People should ‘chill out’ on the ‘anchor baby’ controversy

Bush defended his "anchor baby" comments. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

This story has been updated.

McALLEN, Tex. — Former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Monday dismissed the controversy surrounding his use of the term “anchor baby,” saying during a visit to this U.S.-Mexico border town that he merely used the term to describe instances in which non-Americans abuse the law to gain citizenship for their children, and that it is more prevalent among Asians.

“What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there is 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 told reporters during a news conference at Palenque Grill in McAllen.

The former Florida governor’s newly added public event in the Texas town, which sits near the southernmost tip of the state, was designed to paint a sharp contrast between his immigration reform agenda and the platform outlined last week by presidential rival Donald Trump. The business mogul has called for the mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and for building a wall along the entire southern border.

But it was Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship — which grants citizenship to those born in the United States, regardless of their parents’ nationalities — that stirred the most controversy. It also created headaches for his Republican rivals, who struggled with how to respond to questions on the issue. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seemed to bounce between several positions for a week, finally stating Sunday that he does not support changes to the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship.

Bush, who has called for immigration reform, ran into trouble last week when he used the term “anchor baby” while responding to a question about Trump’s call to change the law.

The former Florida governor has been hit on immigration from both sides. The Clinton campaign released its own online video Monday attacking Bush's immigration positions, likening his agenda to Trump's. “These days, there’s not much daylight between Jeb Bush and his Republican colleagues when it comes to immigration,” the campaign said in a statement.

Trump himself said Bush had reversed his position, and criticized him for the shift. “Now he wants to use [the term] because I use it,” he tweeted Friday. “Stay true to yourself!”

On Monday, Bush said he supports the Fourteenth Amendment and that the term “anchor baby” should not be interpreted as an insult.

"My background, my life, the fact that I’m immersed in the immigrant experience — this is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I’m using a derogatory term," he said. "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."

Switching to Spanish later, Bush said: "No one is going to lecture me on this. I am proudly married to a Mexican American. My kids are Hispanic.”

His campaign also released a video Monday labeling the real estate mogul's immigration plans 'catastrophic.'

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's latest campaign ad went after Donald Trump's immigration plan. (Video: Jeb Bush)

“Mr. Trump’s plans are not grounded in conservative principles,” Bush told reporters. "The simple fact is that his proposal is unrealistic. It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It will violate people’s civil liberties. It will create friction with our third-largest trading partner that is not necessary.”

Trump fired back, accusing the campaign of catering to special interests and calling Bush “boring.”

“He is doing so poorly in the polls that he is now starting to spend some of the money that his ‘bosses,’ special interests and lobbyists have given him to attack me,” Trump responded in a statement to the press. “…The last thing this country needs is a low-energy President without any substance or any ideas on how to Make America Great Again. Even this video is boring.”

While in McAllen, Bush also attended a fundraiser and met with local officials to discuss immigration policy and border security. On Tuesday, he heads to Colorado and Utah.