On the morning of January 31, federal prosecutors in Southern California arrested three Chinese nationals and then unsealed indictments of other 19 individuals linked to the three “birth tourism” rings that received more than $3 million in wire transfers from China in just two years.
The indictments are historic because they represent the first-ever federal criminal charges brought against operators and customers of “maternity houses,” which serve foreign mother who travel from abroad for the sole purpose of having a baby on U.S. soil.
According to the indictment, Jing Dong, Michael Wei Yueh Liu, and Dongyuan Li operated the birthing and maternity houses that each promoted the advantages of giving birth in America, including that there was “better air,” that the U.S. had “priority for jobs in U.S. government,” and that they could get “free education from junior high school to public high school.”
The women would first obtain fraudulent visas to enter the U.S. – often through ports of entry with less-vigorous vetting – and then would live in the houses until their babies were born. The cost to ensure their babies would be born in the U.S. ranged from $40,000 to $80,000.
The women would receive coaching even before they entered the U.S. – even advising them to travel before 30 weeks so they would not be refused entry, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutors, investigators from multiple agencies have been working on building the case since March 2015 when federal agents launched operations to break up the rings.
In addition to engaging in tax evasion, the customers and operators were involved in defrauding the hospitals as well. According to USA Today, one of the new parents paid “just $4,080 of a $28,845 hospital bill, even though their bank account showed charges at Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino.”
During the 2016 presidential primary campaign, the media focused on how the illicit practice was phrased and whom it might offend, rather than on the damage is being done to the fabric of the nation by allowing the U.S. immigration system to be abused. Amazingly, The Huffington Post published an article asserted that cracking down on birth tourism involving Chinese nationals would be economically harmful and potentially racist.
Others outside the rhetorical bubble, however, see the real risks to not getting tough on it.
“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,” said Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District California.
If we are going to get really serious about stopping the birth tourism business, then we will have to address the problem before there is a visa issued to overstay or abuse.
“The solutions to this problem wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Consular officers should enforce the law rigorously. Their performance should be evaluated, at least in part, by their record of visa issuance. Ports of entry should limit visitors to 90 days, and extensions should be granted in only very rare cases. So-called tourists shouldn’t be able to enjoy an endless holiday. If they want to stay in the U.S. permanently, they first should be required to return home,” advises former diplomat Dave Seminara.
Until that change is made, let’s hope more indictments are in the works.