For the last several years most of the attention to federal immigration policy has been focused on the border, and on lax interior enforcement. But another insidious problem has accelerated, and promises to worsen for as long as it goes unattended: birth tourism, the practice of allowing pregnant foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for the sole purpose of having a U.S. citizen child.
According to CNN Money, about 10,000 Chinese women gave birth in the U.S. last year, more than double 2008’s 4,200. China is the main sender, but Korea, Japan, Turkey and Mexico eagerly line up to take advantage of the benefits that will accrue to their children: U.S. citizenship, an American passport, social security numbers, driving privileges, and lower university tuition rates once they’re ready to enter college. As one agent who arranges birth tourism packages described it, the return on investment is higher than robbing a bank.
Coming to the U.S. to have a child is simple and risk-free. Entrepreneurs set up websites that advertise how to get a visa, suggest culturally appropriate maternity hotels which will provide medical attention, and help arrange trips to local sights while the women are waiting to deliver. Fees range up to $30,000. Recently, a new wrinkle has been introduced. Prospective parents can hire a surrogate mother already in the U.S. to give birth to their baby. Presto, without the cost and inconvenience of traveling to the U.S., a citizen child will join the family.
Even though the overseas organizers acknowledge that they’re flouting U.S. immigration law, they proceed undeterred and go so far as to editorialize about their services. In a Washington Post editorial, a Chinese intermediary wrote sanctimoniously that his agency doesn’t “encourage” breaking the law, just “taking advantage of it,” and compared birth tourism to jaywalking.
But birth tourism does break the law. On their visas, most women falsely state that they’re coming to the U.S. as legitimate tourists, not to have children. Lying on a visa application or any other type of visa fraud is a felony, a violation of the “False Statement in Use and Application of Passport” statute, and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment for up to ten years.
However, President Obama has dismantled both the first and second lines of defense against visa fraud. First, consular officers are forbidden to ask, even in the most obvious cases, if the traveler is pregnant or intends to give birth in the U.S., a yes answer to which would bar them from admission. Second, ICE agents could go to the maternity hotels, ask to see the visa paperwork, and if fraud is found, impose the appropriate fines and/or imprisonment sentences. Such a practice, impossible to imagine in the Obama administration, would stop birth tourism dead in its tracks.
A permanent solution to the birth tourism sham would be for Congress to correctly interpret the 14th Amendment which states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
By no stretch are foreign nationals subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, one of the 14th Amendment’s original authors, stated that to the jurisdiction thereof means “not owing allegiance to anyone else,” or any other government. The 14th Amendment is intended to ensure civil rights for slaves and their descendants in the post-Civil War era, not immigrants gaming the system.
The Senate and the House have introduced companion bills, HR 140 and S. 45 that would only confer citizenship to children with at least one parent who is a citizen, a lawfully admitted permanent resident or an alien actively serving in the U.S. military.
American citizenship should not be for sale. Given the escalation in birth tourism, unless laws are enacted to preserve citizenship privileges for those who deserve them, those rights will continue to be diluted.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]