Media, Politicians Are Breeding Birth Tourism Myths

What could be wrong with making changes to visa regulations in order to prevent pregnant foreigners coming to America on tourist visas when their real goal is to give birth in the U.S., thereby securing citizenship for their unborn child? Nothing, but even the smallest of moves to crack down on abuse of our immigration system seems to inspire mythmaking by immigration activists and their allies.

The truth is that the two changes announced by the State Department last week are quite limited in scope. First, the new rules only give overseas consular officers additional leeway to refuse a ”B” nonimmigrant visitor visa to someone whom they suspect is traveling to the U.S. “for the primary purpose” of giving birth to a U.S. citizen..

The second update will require applicants who claim to be seeking urgent medical care to demonstrate that medical arrangements have been made and that they are able to pay for the care, as well as associated costs.

In the fantasy world of some in the media, this will result in women being required to take pregnancy tests before flying and is actually “a way to control women.” The media are not alone in purporting that a measure designed to combat visa fraud represents an attack on women.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) retweeted a news article (not the actual rule) and claimed, “This administration is now targeting pregnant. [sic]women. When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point. #AbolishICE #BreakUpCBP

Beside the fact that the State Department, not Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection issue visas, the rule hardly targets pregnant women.

As officials made clear in a press call, consular officers have been told that they can only ask a visa applicant if they are pregnant if there is “a specific, articulable reason to believe that an applicant is pregnant and planning to give birth” in the U.S. And then they must determine whether the reason for giving birth is legitimate or for the purpose of achieving birthright citizenship for a child.

Feminists and pro-choice advocates joined in the distortion antics. Kerri Talbot, with the Immigration Hub, an immigration rights group, claimed consular officers will become “reproductive policemen” and that women “will have to conceal their pregnancies just to get a tourist visa to visit the United States.”

Shannon Kowalski of the International Women’s Health Coalition asserted in a Vox interview that the changes “will make it harder for women, particularly young women, to travel to the United States for any purpose,” while Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women says the new rule “portrays women and people with the capacity for pregnancy as a danger to the United States of America.”

Ironically, these advocates for “women’s rights,” who have no expertise in immigration, also contend consular officers are not suited to screen women because they have no medical training. They are correct. However, they are trained and fully qualified to identify through questioning when an applicant is being truthful or not. They are most qualified because they have encountered those engaging in birth tourism in practice.

As David Seminara, a former embassy official, wrote in a 2018 Wall Street Journal column, “Foreign women come to America to give birth to U.S. citizens. When I worked as a consular officer at U.S. embassies overseas, I frequently interviewed mothers-to-be for their visa applications. And I was often compelled to renew U.S. passports for children who had been born in America but never lived there. I complied with the law but felt as if I was complicit in a scam.”

The biggest myth is that “birth tourism” is only a problem in the wild imaginations of anti-immigrant nativists. The myth could not be farther from the truth.

In 2010, an ABC News report cited data from the National Center for Health Statistics showing the number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2006. In 2015, both BBC and USA Today aired investigative reports documenting cases the increasing numbers of wealthy Chinese nationals receiving tens of thousands of dollars to bring in women whose sole goal was to deliver their babies in American hospitals. NBC News has also reported on the Russian women flocking to Florida to give birth.

Foreign women are paying large sums to come here, but American taxpayers pay too for the estimated 33,000 births to tourists every year.

In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study that  examined how birth tourism babies impacted the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Orange County, California. They found that babies born to women who had traveled to give birth in the U.S. were “presenting more complex medical, social and financial challenges” to the hospital.

“As birth tourism increases in our region, so do subsequent NICU admissions and significant social and financial burdens arising from the unanticipated medical needs of the babies,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Michel Mikhael, in 2015.

Unfortunately, those ballooning costs associated with birth tourism are not easily-dismissed myths.

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