The federal government is finally cracking down on so-called “birth tourism.” My only question is, what took them so long?
Birth tourism involves pregnant women who travel to the United States to give birth so that their babies will be American citizens. Many of these women, mostly from China and Latin America, don’t speak English and know nothing about the United States. Unscrupulous birth tourism promoters charge them a lot of money — $40,000 or more — and put them up in cheap hotels or apartment buildings. In other words, birth tourism is a scam that should be confronted head on.
About 10 days ago, the Trump administration published new rules allowing American consular officers serving overseas to deny tourist visas to pregnant women who are coming to the United States to have their babies. To receive a visa, these women must prove they’re coming to the America for a legitimate medical need and not just to give birth. This is a tough call for those young consular officers, but I hope they’ll hold the line on birth tourism, which has burgeoned in recent years.
According to new State Department rules, the department “doesn’t believe that visiting the United States for the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child ... is a legitimate activity...” Amen! While the new rules deal specifically with birth tourism, the Trump administration also is turning away pregnant women coming across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a broader illegal immigration crackdown.
In late January, according to the Orange County Register, the U.S. Justice Department filed charges against 19 people involved in the birth tourism racket, most of whom live in China. However, three of the accused live in Southern California, operating companies called “You Win USA” and “USA Happy Baby, Inc.” Officials told the Register that “many of the women had come to Southern California as part of organized tours sold to them by Chinese companies. The women were provided with housing, vacation-style tours, shopping excursions and fine dining.” The tours ended shortly after the women gave birth in the United States.
“The birth tourism companies allegedly schemed to defraud the U.S. government by helping their clients file fraudulent visa applications that hid the true purpose of their visits,” federal prosecutors stated when they filed charges against the birth tourism operators. They added that the companies typically charge between $40,000 and $100,000 for their “services.” One company, Los Angeles-based “Star Baby Care,” boasted that it already had obtained tourist visas for 8,000 pregnant women, half of them from China. Others came from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“Homeland Security will aggressively target those who make a mockery of our laws and our values to benefit and enrich themselves,” the prosecutors added. Needless to say, birth tourism has sparked a debate about “birthright citizenship,” a constitutional provision that confers American citizenship upon anyone born on U.S. soil, including Hawaii, where many birth tourism companies operate because it’s so much closer to China. Most countries reject birthright citizenship.
The recent arrests came after a four-year investigation of birth tourism companies, primarily in Southern California. Federal attorneys said many of those who eventually were charged already had fled to China, but noted that “a few apartment complexes in Irvine and other cities now fill entire neighborhoods.”
The birth tourism scandal reveals yet again the weakness of our outdated immigration laws and the obvious need for rea comprehensive immigration reform.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.