Like something out of an espionage novel, federal authorities in southern California on Thursday charged 19 people in the first major crackdown on birth tourism.
“The indictments charge operators and clients of three ‘maternity house’ or ‘birthing house’ schemes that were dismantled in March 2015, when federal agents executed 35 search warrants, which resulted from international undercover operations,” noted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California in a statement.
The practice of traveling to America for the sole purpose of giving birth brings hundreds of pregnant women from China to the U.S. to secure birthright citizenship for their children, said federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, according to Reuters.
“Birth tourism is yet another example of anchor babies — mothers who come to the U.S. with the sole intention of giving birth in this country and thus bestowing automatic citizenship onto a baby that has no real ties to the United States,” Dave Ray, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told LifeZette via email on Friday morning.
“While the parents are not always entitled to the full gamut of services provided to citizens of the U.S., the newborn child certainly is,” he added.
“Through that new American child, parents can receive public assistance, like food stamps and other taxpayer-funded benefits.”
Chinese ‘birth tourism’ clients were coached on how to lie to US officials about the purpose and length of their trips so their children would receive US birthright citizenship https://t.co/zSyCRgskXs pic.twitter.com/zMgzWD2id9
— ICE (@ICEgov) February 1, 2019
Birthing schemes also appear to be financially lucrative for maternity house operators.
Dongyuan Li, 41, was among those arrested, reported Fox News. Her business, called You Win USA, coached pregnant Chinese women on how to get into the U.S. to deliver babies who would enjoy the benefits of American citizenship.
For over two years, this individual made millions of dollars through her business; mothers-to-be paid between $40,000 and $80,000 each to come to California, stay in an upscale apartment, and give birth, said authorities, as Fox News also reported.
“These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws — laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement.
“Statements by the operators of these birthing houses show contempt for the United States, while they were luring clients with the power and prestige of U.S. citizenship for their children,” added Hanna.
“It’s the result of a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted to ensure full citizenship for the newly emancipated African-Americans.”
“Some of the wealthy clients of these businesses also showed blatant contempt for the U.S. by ignoring court orders directing them to stay in the country to assist with the investigation and by skipping out on their unpaid hospital bills.”
Though the United States Constitution grants citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil, some are overplaying their hand, noted Ray.
“This abuse is widespread and best underscores the need to do away with birthright citizenship altogether,” he told LifeZette.
“It’s the result of a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted to ensure full citizenship for the newly emancipated African-Americans,” he emphasized.
“Importantly, the amendment asserts that ‘all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.’ The phrase ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ was intended to exclude from automatic citizenship American-born persons whose allegiance to the United States was incomplete — such as these newborn children of visiting legal or illegal immigrants.”
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.