Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush once seemed a natural to navigate the political minefields of the immigration issue, given his marriage to a Mexican-born American, his vast experience in Central America and his fluency in Spanish.
It hasn’t played out that way. Ever since he began positioning himself for a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Bush has stumbled over his positions and rhetoric, including whether he would support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He went from “no” on that issue to “maybe” to “no” again.
Now Bush is taking it on the chin from both ends of the political spectrum — derided and belittled by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump for being a “low-energy” softie on immigration reform and by Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton for using the phrase “anchor babies” to describe the children of illegal immigrants who are born in this country and automatically become U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment.
On Monday, as Bush was headed for a campaign appearance in McAllen, Texas, on the border with Mexico, Trump delivered a caustic sendoff.
“I think it’s great he’s going to the border,” Trump crowed on the program Fox and Friends, adding that “I think he’ll find out” that illegal immigration is “not an act of love.”
Bush famously said in April 2014 that many immigrants enter this country illegally as “an act of love” to help their families, and not as a crime. Trump favors building a wall along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border and methodically arresting and deporting more than 11 million illegal immigrants — with the understanding that the “good ones” will be let back in this country after going through proper immigration procedures.
Bush repeatedly bridled at Trump’s comments once he got down to McAllen and attacked Trump’s immigration plans as preposterously expensive and ill conceived. “Building a wall will cost hundreds of billions of dollars,” Bush said, according to a report by C-SPAN. “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. So I’m not going to get into this issue of what he said and what I said. The simple fact is that his proposal is unrealistic . . . it will violate people’s civil liberties, it will create friction with our third largest trading partner [Mexico] that is not necessary, and I think he’s wrong about this.”
As for Trump’s assertion that he was the first to make immigration an issue in the campaign, Bush suggested that “he might want to read my book.”
“I welcome Mr. Trump into the debate,” Bush said. “That’s great. He’s a serious candidate and he ought to be held to what serious candidates are held to.”
Bush showed almost as much annoyance with Clinton and other Democrats for criticizing his use of the term “anchor babies.” He may be regretting his use of the term in what has become a war of words among GOP candidates trying to match or one-up Trump in the debate over immigration.
Bush insisted that he had used the term to describe abuses of the constitutional protection, and not for advocating a repeal of the protection, as Trump and others favor.
“Given 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. “What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there were organized efforts — and frankly it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country and having children in an organized effort to take advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”
He said he continues to support the 14th Amendment protection and that, “Nothing about what I said should be viewed as derogatory towards immigrants at all.”
“This is all about how politics plays,” he added. “And by the way I think we need to take a step back and chill out a little bit about as it relates to the political correctness and somehow you have to be scolded every time you say something. It’s not fair to be taken out of context, it’s the nature of politics, but I just don’t think this is appropriate.”
Pressed again by a reporter to say how he would refer to those children going forward, a peeved Bush replied: “Give me the name you want me to use and I’ll use it.”