“The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank”
Donald Trump sparked a national debate when he took aim at birthright citizenship, giving rise to clashes over the intent of the 14 th amendment and the possibility of Congress further defining citizenship.
Much of the debate centered on the use of the term “anchor babies.” Some find it offensive; others find it definitive.
Trump never wavered in using the term. But when Jeb Bush tried to explain his position, he stumbled into the thicket of “birth tourism” with emphasis on Asians.
“What I was talking about,” Bush said, “was the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts – and frankly it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept with birthright citizenship.”
As reported by John Feere of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), “Bush appears to have been referring to birth tourism, the practice of foreigners traveling to the United States to give birth and add a U.S. passport holder to the family.”
Feere says that perhaps as many as 36,000 birth tourists come to the United States every year, but facts about the birth tourist are hard to verify.
“There is not any breakdown of the nationality of birth tourists, in large part because the practice is largely clandestine. However, there are media reports (both American and international) that shed some light on the origins of birth tourists.”
What is known is that birth tourism to the United States is a global business. Following are excerpts from Feere’s report showing that birth tourism is not confined to Asia:
* China and Taiwan
Most media attention on birth tourism is focused on Chinese birth tourism. It may be that the largest percentage of birth tourism originates in China, but there are no numbers to verify this. It has been reported that there are “at least 500 companies” offering birth tourism services in China.
A Chinese news article titled “China’s ‘Born in the USA’ Frenzy” details the efforts one Chinese birth tourist took to conceal her fraud and quoted an organizer of birth tourism who explained that “The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank.”
The article also notes that “Giving birth to a child abroad is not a privilege reserved to the stars and the very wealthy. An increasing number of expectant middle-class parents also fancy giving their children passports that they can feel proud of.”
In 2011, city officials in southern California uncovered a makeshift maternity ward described by the media as one “that primarily caters to Chinese and Taiwanese” birth tourists. City officials shut the operation down after a resident complained about traffic, density, and building code issues.
One woman born to a birth tourist in New York in 1989 returned to the United States at age 15 to take advantage of U.S.-taxpayer subsidized high schools in Idaho, Utah, and California. She told the Sacramento Bee, “I’m Taiwanese more than American.” (She was brought back to Taiwan two months after being born.) Though she is considered a U.S. citizen, she describes the United States as a “foreign country”.
The Korea Times has explained that Los Angeles is “the top delivery destination among pregnant Korean women” and notes that there are “dozens of birthing hotels run by Koreans in and around downtown Los Angeles”.
The Korea Times also explains that: “People in the ‘industry’ say the number of pregnant women from Korea who flew in to give birth quadrupled since the [Visa Waiver Program] took effect in November 2008.”
The Nigerian media published an article in 2010 analyzing discussions among American lawmakers about limiting the scope of birthright citizenship and ending birth tourism. The article is titled, “American Agitations Threaten a Nigerian Practice”.
According to the article, the practice of Nigerians traveling to the United States to have a child is “spreading so fast that it is close to becoming an obsession.”
According to Selin Burcuoğlu, a Turkish woman who traveled to the United States to give birth, the process was easy: “We found a company on the Internet and decided to go to Austin for our child’s birth. It was incredibly professional. They organized everything for me. I had no problem adjusting and I had an excellent birth. I don’t want her to deal with visa issues – American citizenship has so many advantages.”
A Turkish paper reports that “Burcuoğlu is not the only Turkish parent who wants her child to have U.S. citizenship. Many Turkish parents-to-be are now seeking tourism companies to ‘guarantee’ their child’s life.” The paper cites sources estimating that Turkish doctors, hotel owners, and immigrant families in the United States have reportedly helped arrange the U.S. birth of 12,000 Turkish children between 2003 and 2010 (when the article was published).
The Moscow Times reports that birth tourism is a “growing trend among Russians keen both to ensure their child has coveted U.S. citizenship and to make use of the country’s vaunted private medical care.”
“If previously our clients were mostly very wealthy families, today the middle class is actively making use of our services,” said Vera Muzyka, head of Status-Med, a company helping to arrange birth tourism. She notes that the number is “growing every year” and says “Overall, we estimate there are about 40 to 60 such births in Miami every month.”
* The U.S.-Mexico Border
The practice of traveling to the United States to give birth is something that is not limited to people who fly over the Pacific or Atlantic. But because the term “birth tourism” does not have a settled definition, people oftentimes do not think of immigrants crossing the border as birth tourists.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Women have long been crossing the border from Mexico to give birth, pursuing the age-old yearning of parents everywhere to give their children better lives.”