U.S. cracks down on “birth tourism”

ImmigrationU.S. cracks down on “birth tourism”
Published 5 March 2015

Each year, thousands of wealthy couples, mostly from China, the Middle East, Africa, and South Korea partake in what authorities have coined “birth tourism,” in which pregnant women pay to visit the United States and give birth, thereby making their child or children U.S. citizens. In most cases, the parents would also gain permanent U.S. resident status. Roughly 40,000 babies are born each year to women visiting the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth.

Each year, thousands of wealthy couples, mostly from China, the Middle East, Africa, and South Korea partake in what authorities have coined “birth tourism,” in which pregnant women pay to visit the United States and give birth, thereby making their child or children U.S. citizens. In most cases, the parents would also gain permanent U.S. resident status.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), roughly 40,000 babies are born each year to women visiting the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth.
On the high end of the market, those couples can pay up to $80,000 per trip to companies that recruit and arrange their visits. “It is essentially citizenship for sale,” said CIS analyst Jessica Vaughan. “Something U.S. citizens hold very dear and cherish is essentially being purchased by people for their own economic self-interests or potentially more nefarious purposes.”
On Tuesday morning, federal officials in Southern California served warrants at “Chinese birthing houses” or “maternity hotels.” Investigations leading up to the warrants included DHS agents posing as Chinese nationals wanting a niece in Beijing to have a child in the United States. Husband and wife team Chao Chen and Jie Zhu gave the undercover agents a tour of the Caryle Apartments complex near John Wayne Airport. According to the affidavit, seventeen to twenty units in the complex were all rented in Chen’s name. Each unit, investigators reported, had one or two pregnant Chinese nationals who paid Chen and Zhu between $40,000 to $80,000 for a service package that included transportation to and from the airport, visits to the grocery store, restaurants, entertainment, and prenatal visits to a physician.
Investigators also discovered that Chen and his associates, operating as “You Win USA Vacation Resort,” routinely altered customers’ tourist visa applications to increase their chances of being granted visas. The team also told customers to hide their pregnancy from customs officials and also recommended flying into Honolulu “for a higher success rate,” since officials at Los Angeles International Airport were already on alert to potential “birth tourism” fraud. “We were coached through the entire process,” one of the undercover agents toldFox News. “What to wear, what to say, how to stay under the radar.”
The Wall Street Journal notes that it is not illegal for foreigners who are pregnant to travel to the United States or give birth when visiting, so U.S. officials have found it difficult to prosecute those who operate “birth tourism” schemes.
Tax evasion and money laundering charges, on the other hand, are often an option for prosecutors. Chen and another business partner Dong Li “earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from their visa fraud scheme,” according to court documents, yet for 2013, Li filed no tax return and Chen filed a false return. In 2013, Chen received more than $500,000 in wire transfers, while Li received more than $1.5 million from bank accounts in China, according to the affidavit.

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