Jeb Bush defends 'anchor baby' use, at times in Spanish

Story highlights

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addressed reporters in English and Spanish while in McAllen, Texas, Monday
  • He said Democrats shouldn't criticize him for using the term "anchor baby"

McAllen, Texas (CNN)Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday it's "ludicrous" that Democrats are attacking him for using the term "anchor baby" last week while talking about illegal immigration.

"This is all how politics is played. And by the way, I think we all 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," said the Republican presidential candidate.
Speaking in English just as much as in Spanish, Bush took questions from reporters here in the border town of McAllen, Texas, where earlier in the day he held a private roundtable meeting with local elected officials, community leaders, state representatives and members of law enforcement.
    His visit comes just days after Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, blasted Bush for using the term "anchor baby," a phrase referring to children who are born in the country to parents who came into the country illegally. It's widely considered offensive by Latinos.
    Bush first used the term during a radio interview Thursday morning, calling for "greater enforcement" to address the issue of "anchor babies, as they're described."
    A day later, he staunchly defended his use of the word, saying it wasn't his preferred choice and challenged reporters to give him a better word.
    "What I said is that it's commonly referred to that. I didn't use it as my own language," he said.
    But Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Monday that Bush's use of the term is "disgusting and that he "owes million of U.S. citizens, Latinos, and immigrants an apology."
    Bush, however, said he's "immersed in the immigrant experience," referring to his wife who's from Mexico. He also speaks fluent Spanish and has lived in the Miami area for decades.
    "This is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I'm using a derogatory term," he said, adding, "Frankly it's more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children, in that organized efforts, taking advantage of a noble concept."
    Pressed on whether he'll continue to use the term, Bush didn't utter the phrase but called it "fraud" and argued that "we need to enforce the law," though he still supports keeping birthright citizenship in place, unlike Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
    At one point, a heckler started shouting at Bush during the press conference.
    "He says your kids are anchor babies -- your kids are anchor babies!" Bush quickly whipped around to look at the man, smiled, then continued taking questions from others.
    The trip to McAllen has been on his schedule for a few weeks, his campaign says, but it was originally going to be just a fundraising trip. He added the roundtable a couple of weeks ago.
    Trump, who visited the border last month, said Monday he thinks it's "great" that Bush is in the area because he'll realize that illegal immigration is "not an act of love."
    His comment was referring to an argument that Bush made last year, explaining why so many people want to immigrate to the U.S.
    The war of words between Bush and Trump has escalated in recent days, as Bush has taken a harder line against the GOP front-runner who's been tougher on Bush than any other candidate.
    The two have opposing views on immigration policy, a contrast that Bush's campaign is eager to highlight. Trump wants to end birthright citizenship, force Mexico to build a wall and deport people who are here illegally, while Bush favors legal status for the undocumented immigrants after they meet certain criteria.
    Bush has been attempting to frame himself as the expert candidate on the issue, saying Monday that Trump's ideas are "unrealistic" and would "cost hundreds of billions of dollars."
    "I think he's wrong about this. And if he was interested in a more comprehensive approach he might want to read my book, Immigration Wars, which I published four years ago," he said. "I welcome Mr. Trump into the debate. I think that's great. He's a serious candidate and he ought to be held to what serious candidates need to be held to. He needs to be held to account for his views."
    But Trump has rocketed to popularity in large part because of his outspoken views on the issue, tapping into widespread anger of the country's problem with illegal immigration.
    Asked later by CNN what he thought about Ben Carson's proposal to use drone strikes on caves to combat cartels, Bush said he hadn't heard of Carson's plan and declined to comment.