Brace yourselves, Asian America: The GOP hate train has arrived on our doorstep. Well to be specific, the Jeb! hate train arrived today, bringing with him racism and bigotry. Let's go.
If you missed the flurry of articles today, with Asians subsequently trending on Twitter, you might not know what I'm referencing to (but let's be real, this probably has been all you saw on your timelines this afternoon). Presidential candidate and Bush political dynasty member (heir?) Jeb Bush called out Asians today while he tried to clear his name on ignorance—you know, the old "I'm not racist towards this group, I'm racist towards that group!" tactic.
In discussing "anchor babies," or U.S. citizens, as these individuals are, Bush said:
"What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts—and, frankly, it’s more related to Asian people—coming into our country, having children, and in those organized efforts taking advantage of a noble concept which is birthright citizenship."
First, as many have rightly pointed out, it seems as if Jeb! was talking about birth tourism, through which parents would come to the United States with the sole purpose of giving birth, a phenomena growing in popularity in China.
But "anchor babies" and birth tourism are not the same phenomena. When people use the derogatory term "anchor babies," they are referring to the notion of undocumented immigrant parents staying in the United States with the U.S. born children, children that can potentially sponsor their parents after they turn 21.
Birth tourism is conducted due to a variety of factors, be it to avoid China's one-child policy, or to allow their children to eventually come back to the United States for higher education (and avoid the visa mess). By some more reasonable estimates, there were 20,000 births through this industry last year, a fraction of the 2.2 million Chinese tourists in 2014.
However, in the grand scheme of things, not only does this not account for a large driver of immigration, many of these families do not stay in the United States. Between 2012 and 2013, the foreign-born population of the United States increased by about 523,000.
Yet as we observe the mess on birthright citizenship unfold—be sure not to miss a excellent history lesson on Wong Kim Ark by Erika Lee or the reality of immigration to the U.S. today by Karthick Ramakrishnan—I'm sitting here smirking at Jeb's mistake.
Whether it's gripes about birth tourism, "anchor babies," or birthright citizenship from the GOP, it boils down to their inability to move forward on curbing unwanted immigration into the country. Taking hard lines against undocumented immigrants is no longer the "hip" thing to do in the GOP—now you have to take down fundamental American rights as well.
But let me take a step back here—I don't have a problem with birth tourism at all. If we want to fully support the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship, any birth on American soil should be vigorously defended and protected. Yet it is not just about birthright citizenship—Chinese families pay tens of thousands of dollars to businesses conducting birth tourism in the U.S. to allow their children be American citizens. The lengths these families go through to give their children access to America is incredible, and while I don't support those businesses that break or skirt laws, we should not be disparaging these people.
Nor do I have an issue with "anchor babies," a term I sincerely wish can be wiped off of the face of the Earth. There is no proof that such a phenomena is truly bringing more undocumented immigrants into the country or used as a tactic to stay in the United States. More importantly, undocumented Americans are Americans—they contribute to this country economically and culturally.
As an aside, it is funny to me that GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal is so quick to support ending birthright citizenship, when his parents came to America while expecting him—Jindal was born only a few months after his parents arrived in the United States.
However on the issue of immigration, Asian Americans have long been left out of the story. For a few years now (since 2008), there has been more migration to the U.S. from Asia than Latin America, more from China or India alone than Mexico.
In 2011, 1 in 8 Asian immigrants were undocumented, and today, more than 1 in 10 undocumented immigrants are Asian—and under the Obama administration, over 250,000 undocumented Asian Americans have been deported. Over 1.5 million undocumented Americans are Asian.
These numbers are significant, and they should have been apart of the immigration conversation—whether on the left or the right—from the start.
So I sat on the Metro reading articles on Jeb! today with anticipation—hoping that Asian Americans can finally apart of the greater immigration narrative we hear and read about.
The xenophobia that the Republican presidential candidates have demonstrated should be deeply troubling for the GOP—while Asian Americans in 1992 voted for Clinton at only 31%, we voted for Obama in 2012 at 73%. But Asian Americans are still considered up-for-grabs in terms of party affiliation, with 45% not aligning with either party.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing immigrant population, fastest growing electorate, fastest growing undocumented immigrant population, and are becoming an increasingly unified voting bloc.
The GOP should be watching their presidential candidates cautiously and nervously in the coming days and weeks—while our vote may not be as clear cut as other communities, it is at least clear that offending Asian Americans is not the way to go.
At the same time, I want to see our community grab the microphone on this issue and not let it disappear from the news cycle—we rarely have windows of opportunity to directly engage on such a broad stage the issues we care about. Let's not waste that opportunity.
Note: Post updated to reflect more accurate estimate of birth tourism, post originally included a number (60,000) that is way higher than most estimates.