Last week, presidential candidate Jeb Bush came under fire for trying to shift the birthright citizenship debate from Latinos to Asian Americans. After he was criticized for his use of the derogatory term “anchor babies” to describe the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, Bush attempted to justify his poor word choice by stating, “it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept with birthright citizenship.”
Previously Bush had been looked to by his supporters as a reasonable and informed voice on the immigration debate. After this series of insensitive remarks on the subject, he now finds himself easy prey for the other candidates.
“Asians are very offended that JEB said that anchor babies applies to them as a way to be more politically correct to hispanics. A mess!” candidate Donald Trump tweeted after Bush’s comment about Asian Americans last week. This must have been particularly stinging for Bush because it was Trump’s surging in the polls that likely led Bush to use the term “anchor babies” in order to appear tough on immigration.
But was there any truth to Bush’s statement? Do Asian “anchor babies” pose a legitimate threat to the United States?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is no.
It is true that “birth tourism,” the practice of traveling to another country to have children, is more common among Asian families than in other cultures. There are more American children born to non-citizen Asian parents than to any other ethnicity in the United States. However, these children could never be described as “anchor babies.”
The term “anchor baby” implies that the child is intended to act as an anchor for the future citizenship of his or her parents. However, for the most part Asian birth tourists have no interest in staying in the United States. They leave as soon as their children are old enough to travel, and raise them in their home country.
These parents do not enter the country illegally. Rather they obtain legal visas, and are usually coached by birth tourism agencies to be honest to immigration and customs agents about their intentions for their visits.
They are not poor and looking to mooch off of the American welfare system. Asian birth tourism agencies can charge upwards of $50,000 to facilitate American births, and instruct parents to pay their medical bills out of pocket.
While this practice is bewildering to most Americans, there are many reasons why some Asian parents would want to have their children in the United States. Cleaner air and better doctors are commonly cited reasons for birth tourism. For Chinese parents, it can be a way of evading the one-child policy, which in some cases results in forced abortions.
Far from draining American medical resources, Asian birth tourists stay in the country no more than four months, and spend around $30,000 on health care, transportation, and lodging. Their children, who become American citizens at birth, make up the best educated, highest paid, and most likely to marry across racial lines of any American ethnicity.
2.2 million Chinese tourists visit the United States each year, accounting for roughly $24 billion in tourism spending, according to the Department of Commerce. Birth tourism makes up just 1% of Chinese tourism.
When talking about Latino parents that cross the border to have their children, Jeb Bush once described this practice as an “act of love.” “It shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.” So why should he view Asians any differently?
One likely answer is that Asian Americans only make up 3% of the voting population, so they are an easy scapegoat for a politician looking to dig himself out of a hole.
Sources: AFP, “Jeb Bush: Asians Abusing US Birthright Citizenship,” Yahoo! News, 24 August 2015.
“Asian-Americans Lead All Others in Household Income,” Pew Research Center, 16 April 2013.
Berfield, Susan, “Chinese Maternity Tourists and the Business of Being Born American,” Bloomberg, 12 May 2015.
Brush, Kathleen, “Birth Tourism: An Economic Win for the U.S., Today and Tomorrow,” Daily Finance, 21 May 2015.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Jeffrey S. Passel, “5 Facts About Illegal Immigration in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, 24 July 2015.
Lee, MJ, “5 Things to Know About the Asian ‘Anchor Baby’ Controversy,” CNN, 26 August 2015.
O’Keefe, Ed, “Jeb Bush: Many Illegal Immigrants Come out of an ‘Act of Love,'” The Washington Post, 6 April 2014.
Ramakrishnan, Karthic, “Asian Anchor Babies? Some Numbers and Perspective,”
Huffington Post, 28 August 2015.
“Top 10 Markets: 2014 International Visitor Spending,” Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.