The federal government has taken a keen interest in the growing number of pregnant Chinese women showing up in California for not so brief visits before returning home with their child, a newly-minted U.S. citizen.
A phalanx of local and federal agencies participated in raids this week at 37 “maternity hotels” in Southern California, gathering evidence but not arresting people. In at least some of the raids, investigators were interested in undocumented visitors; fraud and misuse of visas and permits; tax evasion; and failure to report dealings with foreign banks, according to an affidavit (pdf) from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Eric Blair seeking a search warrant.
The federal raids hit locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. The affidavit alleged that USA Happy Baby, Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga committed “immigration fraud by bringing and harboring pregnant Chinese foreign nationals in the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth in the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship.”
The Los Angeles Times called Southern California a “hub of so-called birthing tourism” in 2011, and its popularity has only grown since. CNN reported that the affidavit quoted a previous CNN article that cited Chinese media estimating that 10,000 women gave birth in the U.S. in 2012, up from 4,200 in 2008. But no one has firm numbers.
The affidavit also cited a law review article that estimated 40,000 out of 300,000 children born in the U.S. of foreign nationals are from birthing tourists. Although birthing tourists are mostly Chinese, there have been accounts of Turks, Koreans and Taiwanese participating.
Wealthy Chinese are reportedly paying $15,000 to $50,000 to entrepreneurs who manage the transition, housing and other services for clustered groups of women. The price does not necessarily cover medical costs. Those may be cash payments. But it could include a trip to Disneyland or a firing range, according to CNN’s sources.
What the clients get in return for their money is an edge for their child and themselves. The kid would have an advantage at getting into American universities and the parents could leverage their offspring’s U.S. citizenship should they choose to move abroad in the future. The children could sponsor them here when they are 21.
The operations that bring women over have been anything but clandestine. They use websites, social media and advertising to promote their businesses. According to the Los Angeles Times, a local Chinese phone book has five pages of listings for U.S. birthing centers.
The Blair affidavit hinted that birthing tourism could have nightmarish consequences in the near future because nearly all the visitors are wealthy and “almost two-thirds of Chinese with more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in the bank have emigrated, or are planning to, according to a Hurun report last year.”
Birthing tourism has not been the subject of local, state or federal laws. It is not against the law for a foreign national to give birth in the United States and unlike some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France, the U.S. does not require that one of the parents be a citizen here to qualify their child.