A booming birth tourism industry catering to wealthy Chinese is thriving in the United States. Mothers-to-be paid between $15,000 and $50,000 to give birth in the U.S., so their babies can claim United States citizenship.
By James DiGeorgia
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek announced that 19 individuals had been criminally charged in a U.S. federal court, with running an illegal "birth tourism” business in southern California that is explicitly geared to mainland Chinese clients. Only three of the nineteen individuals were arrested on Thursday.
Birth tourism is nothing new. Foreigners are coming to the United States from foreign countries to give birth so that their children acquire U.S. citizenship is nothing new. The legal principle of jus soli automatically confers citizenship upon babies born on U.S. soil. Many other countries including Switzerland and Japan, do not grant citizenship automatically unless one or both parents are also citizens.
According to the DOJ statement, the three people arrested on Thursday were charged with "conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering and identity theft.”
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According to the DOJ statement given at the time by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the arrests are in connection with a 2015 raid of dozens of so-called "maternity hotels," which are often set up in upscale apartments, where mothers-to-be have paid from $15,000 to $50,000 to give birth in the US.
The DOJ is alleging that a birth tourism industry is operating in the open, and are advertising in China targeting families that are expecting the birth of their babies with the promise:
"'the most attractive nationality'; 'better air' and less pollution; 'priority for jobs in U.S. government'; superior educational resources, including 'free education from junior high school to public high school'; a more stable political situation; and the potential to 'receive your senior supplement benefits when you are living overseas.'"
The indictments of the three individuals allege that they’re companies are helping pregnant Chinese women on how to commit fraud instructing women on how to answer U.S. immigration officers questions and giving them instructions like to wear "loose clothing that would conceal their pregnancies" while entering the U.S.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in discussing the three criminal cases initiated said...
"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."
"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. 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."
This Fraudulent Immigration Operation Generated Millions
The DOJ indictments of 19 people include charges against Dongyuan Li, 41, who was one of the three arrested. Li is alleged in the indictment to have received $3 million in international wire transfers from China during the past two years and involved more than 500 Chinese birth mothers who had responded to his U.S. birth tourism advertising.
One of the most shocking allegations in the DOJ indictment details communications Li allegedly had over whether to refund a down payment because a customer found out that her baby was a girl and "her husband had arranged an abortion for her."
The other two defendants arrested, Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, and Jing Dong, 42, are accused of operating a company called USA Happy Baby Inc. that charged 'VIP' customers up to $100,000 for their help in securing birthright citizenship for their babies. According to the DOJ indictment that Liu and Dong used 14 different bank accounts to receive more than $3.4 million in international wire transfers from China during 2013 and 2014.
Federal prosecutors revealed the remaining 16 individuals linked to alleged Southern California birth tourism company's identities by unsealing their indictments. They are believed to have fled and are now considered fugitives. During the more than two year investigation, one of the 16 defendants believed to have fled told federal agents that his birth tourism business was nothing more than investment and represented "chump change," because he had more than $10 million in his bank accounts in China.
President Trump has cited the problem of “anchor babies” and has stated he wants to end “birthright” citizenship in the United States. The rise of these kinds of illegal birth tourism companies could lead to the changes Trump has been advocating. During the 2016 presidential campaign, former Florida governor Jeb Bush specifically argued that the biggest offenders of birth tourism were coming from Asia.