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The political fight over the term "anchor babies"

When Donald Trump proposed an end to birthright citizenship, he said that he didn't believe "anchor babies" -- a term used to refer to children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents -- were actual American citizens.

"What happens is they're in Mexico, they're going to have a baby, they move over here for a couple of days, they have the baby," Trump said on Fox News Tuesday. He went on to say that he'd like to find out "whether or not anchor babies are citizens because a lot of people don't think they are."

Trump's remarks sparked an immediate backlash -- but like many of his comments, the firestorm didn't focus so much on the content of his policies as the way he articulated them.

In this case, it's the billionaire's contentious use of the term "anchor babies" that has immigration activists, and some Democrats, up in arms.

At a press conference Wednesday, a reporter asked Trump if he was aware the term "anchor baby" was an offensive and hurtful term.

"You mean it's not politically correct, and yet everybody uses it?" Trump said in New Hampshire. He suggested the reporter give him another phrase to use. The reporter suggested calling them "the American-born [children] of undocumented immigrants."

Trump responded, "I'll use the word 'anchor baby.'"

But the businessman, known for his bombastic rhetoric, isn't the only one using - and defending - the phrase.

Favored establishment candidate Jeb Bush, while deriding the significant costs of Trump's overall immigration proposals, did agree that if "pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement."

"That's [the] legitimate side of this," Bush said on the conservative radio show "Morning in America" on Wednesday. "Better enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, 'anchor babies,' as they're described, coming into the country."

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton criticized the term as quickly as it entered the 2016 political lexicon, pouncing on Bush for his use of "anchor babies." She posted a Twitter response to a Politico story on Bush's call for greater enforcement of "anchor babies":

And soon after, Clinton's campaign released a bilingual video linking Bush to Trump's immigration policies. In an email, Clinton campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa attacked the former Florida governor for "following Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric."

The controversy over the term isn't new, especially where Republicans are concerned.

The Supreme Court has consistently held that the Fourteenth Amendment -- which reads ""All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside" -- guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

In 2013, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tried to introduce legislation ending birthright citizenship, saying in statement, "The current practice of extending U.S. citizenship to hundreds of thousands of 'anchor babies' must end because it creates a magnet for illegal immigration into our country."

And when former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, ran for president in 2011, she talked about a bill that would bar citizenship for children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants, saying, according to the Des Moines Register, 'We've got to end this anchor-baby program,' she said.

The term 'anchor baby' is thought to originate in the related term 'anchor child,' which was used in reference to Vietnamese boat people in the early 1980s.

The Post goes on to say that the specific term started its political rise in 2006, when a Republican majority in the House pushed for a bill erecting a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and imposing harsher penalties for illegal immigrants. According to the Post, it was in the ensuing debate that the term "anchor baby" rose to political prominence, particularly among proponents of tightening immigration restrictions. The New York Times even listed it as a buzzword of the year, defining it as a "derogatory term for a child born in the United States to an immigrant."

"Since these children automatically qualify as American citizens," lexicographer Grant Barrett wrote in the Times, "they can later act as a sponsor for other family members." In fact, children are required to wait until they're 21 years old before they're legally able to sponsor a parent or sibling, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The phrase has seen a resurgence in the latest presidential election cycle -- and it's brought a heaping of criticism with it.

On the campaign trail, Jeb Bush became agitated with constant condemnation of the term. When a reporter asked Bush in New Hampshire if he considered the words "bombastic language," Bush testily replied that "no, it isn't."

"Here's the deal -- what I said was that it's commonly referred to that," he told reporters Thursday. "I didn't use it as my own language."

And some, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, remained unapologetic for throwing around the words.

Jindal told Fox News on Thursday that he was "happy to use the term" and said "folks today are too easily offended."

"They're too politically correct," Jindal said, supporting Trump's call to end birthright citizenship. "The real issue here -- yeah I'm happy to use the term -- but the reality is the real issue here is we need to secure our border."