By Joe Guzzardi
February 28, 2014
Birth tourism, the legal but unethical practice whereby pregnant women come to the U.S. for the express purpose of having an American citizen child, came under the microscope recently. PBS, in its segment titled “To the Contrary,” exposed birth tourism for what it is—a scam that takes shameless advantage of a section in the 14th amendment which has been interpreted to confer U.S. citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. Whether the language “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” part of the 14th amendment and originally written to guarantee citizenship to slaves, should include illegal aliens ‘children is hotly debated. The Supreme Court has only ruled on the amendment as it pertains to legal immigrants.
Whatever the accurate reading may be, a review of the steps that lead to foreign-born nationals and so-called tourists giving birth on U.S. soil is indisputably unprincipled. The women, mainly Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese or Turks, lie to their local consulate officials and, claiming to be tourists, obtain a B visa. In truth, they are pregnant and through agents in their home country have pre-arranged accommodations at what are referred to as birthing centers.
A few troubling facts: many of the agents have never been to the U.S. What they describe on their websites as deluxe facilities are often ramshackle apartments that have been reconfigured in violation of zoning codes to house dozens of women. The websites include images of 5-star hotels to lure unsuspecting women. Upon arrival, the women often receive poor quality care, another misrepresentation. The cost is astronomical; only the wealthiest can afford it. PBS interviewed one father who said that all-in he expects to pay around $100,000.
But, Dad was quick to add, the sum is worth it. As one birth tourism website advertised in Chinese: “Congratulations! Arriving in the U.S. means you’ve already given your child a surefire ticket for winning the race. We guarantee that each baby can obtain a U.S. passport and related documents.”
Birth tourism hurts Americans who must subsidize the newborns’ benefits including free K-12 education and state subsidized university tuition. The process also leads to more immigration since, once the children reach 21, they can sponsor their parents. One person becomes many.
The true culprit in the shady birth tourism business isn’t the money-hungry agents, the callous families or the irresponsible birth center providers. The fault lies with the federal government for refusing to pass legislation which would mandate that citizenship to children born within the U.S. can only be granted if at least one of its parents is either a native-born American or a legal permanent resident. The House and the Senate have bills pending that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to that effect.
In the meantime, enforcement could abruptly end birth tourism. Under State Department regulations, visa fraud is classified as a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and can bar the perpetrator from re-entering the U.S. Since the women clearly lied on their applications, an onsite ICE investigation of their falsified tourist documents could result in detention. They would no doubt forfeit monies paid to the birthing center. Once the word got out that the State Department prosecutes visa fraud, birth tourism could dry up within months.
Unfortunately, the House and Senate bills have attracted little congressional interest. And since ICE is nowhere to be seen, enforcement is non-existent. Like so many other immigration abuses, the birth tourism racket presses on, unchecked.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]