Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Saratoga Springs Mayor and congressional candidate Mia Love speaks Sept. 7, 2012, at Thanksgiving Point.
My parents came with a legal visa. I was born. They applied for citizenship legally. They became U.S. citizens. —Mia Love

SALT LAKE CITY — Questions are being raised about how the parents and siblings of Republican congressional candidate Mia Love obtained U.S. citizenship.

And Love blames her 4th Congressional District opponent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson for bringing it up, a claim the six-term congressman calls "utter nonsense."

As the latest dust-up between the candidates swirled, Love's campaign released an internal poll showing her with a double-digit lead over Matheson. The Matheson campaign quickly discounted the results.

During the campaign, Love has told and retold the story about how her parents fled Haiti with $10 in their pockets, worked hard to make a life for their family and insisted their daughter not be a burden on society.

But the liberal-leaning Mother Jones magazine on Monday questioned whether Love is what Republicans derisively call an "anchor baby" — someone born to immigrant parents specifically to game the system and secure legal status for family members.

Love herself in a January 2011 column in the Deseret News said, "My parents have always told me I was a miracle and our family's ticket to America."

According to the story, Love's parents' visas did not allow them to bring anyone other than themselves. They had to leave their young children, son Jean and daughter Cynthia, behind.

There was an immigration law in place, however, that would grant the entire family citizenship if Jean Maxine and Mary Bourdeau had a baby in America.

But there was a deadline. The law was set to expire on Jan. 1, 1976.

On Dec. 6, 1975, with 25 days to spare, Love was born in a Brooklyn hospital. In no time, her older brother and sister were sent for in Haiti, and the family was reunited.

Mother Jones says it doesn't appear such a law existed.

Mia Love appearance on KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright Show

Love became defensive Tuesday and went on the attack when asked on KSL NewsRadio about the Mother Jones story. She blamed Matheson for the issue coming up.

"I think it's so sad Jim Matheson and his friends would go so far as attacking my family, attacking the American dream," she said. "If I weren't running against Jim Matheson, none of these things would come into question."

Love did not offer any evidence that Matheson or his campaign was involved in the story surfacing. She also deflected questions about whether she would be considered an "anchor baby."

"Have we asked Jim Matheson about his ancestors?" she said.

Matheson strongly denied Love's claim of his involvement in the story.

"It's an incredibly reckless statement to make. I didn't have anything to do with this. I think it's ridiculous that she's saying those things," he said Tuesday.

Asked how he thought the story would play for the remainder of the campaign, Matheson said, "I don't know and I don't care." He said he'd rather focus on the stark political differences between himself and Love.

According to immigration lawyers and U.S. immigration officials, there doesn't appear to have been a law of the kind described in the Deseret News column that would have conferred citizenship on Love's parents, let alone her siblings, by simply having a baby in the United States, Mother Jones reported.

Though American immigration law did change in 1976, it merely limited the number of immigrants from the Western Hemisphere who could obtain permanent visas. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the law since at least 1924 has barred minor children from petitioning for permanent residence status on their parents' behalf.

Love's birth in the U.S. couldn't have helped to reunite her family in America, say immigration lawyers contacted by Mother Jones. And, they add, if the Bourdeaus were in the U.S. legally on a permanent visa, they would have been able to bring the kids, according to the law at the time.

Love said she didn't know if there was anything about her birth that allowed her parents to remain in the the country.

"They really never really talked about that," she said.

She maintained that her parents entered the country legally on tourist visas. She said she doesn't know why her siblings didn't come with her parents other than perhaps they wanted to get settled first.

"My parents came with a legal visa. I was born. They applied for citizenship legally. They became U.S. citizens," Love said. "They went through a legal pathway that worked for them."

Love said she will continue to tell her parents' story on the campaign trail. "I've been completely truthful about my story," she said.

On the heels of Wednesday's events, the Love campaign released a poll showing she has surged to a 51 percent to 36 percent lead over Matheson. A Deseret News/KSL poll in June by Dan Jones & Associates showed Matheson leading Love 53-38.

Her campaign said Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies conducted a survey for her and the National Republican Congressional Committee on Sept 10-11. The poll questioned 400 "likely" 4th District voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Matheson campaign spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend called it a "totally biased internal poll. Our opponent is clearly having a bad week and a bad day in particular."

Heyrend said Love is "flinging" allegations at Matheson, and "this is a rather desperate attempt to try and regain some kind of control over her campaign."

Twitter: dennisromboy