Federal authorities have charged 20 people in Southern California in a crackdown on “birth tourism” businesses that help Chinese women travel to the U.S. and give birth to babies who are automatically granted American citizenship.
The business is legal in China, but the tactics for entering the U.S. are not.
The arrests stem from raids by California authorities in 2015 on dozens of maternity hotels for Chinese women in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties for alleged immigration and tax fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles said three people were arrested on charges including conspiracy, visa fraud and money laundering. More than a dozen others were charged in cases stemming from three so-called birth tourism businesses.
Authorities said it is the first time the U.S. has criminally prosecuted birth tourism operators.
“These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws – laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “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.”
Dongyuan Li, Jing Dong and Michael Wei Yueh Liu were scheduled to appear in federal court in Santa Ana on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.
Li, 41, of Irvine, was identified in court records as an executive at You Win USA Vacation Services in Irvine, while Liu, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga, and Dong, 42, of Fontana, were said to own and operate a company called USA Happy Baby in San Bernardino, the Los Angeles Times reported.
At least 500 companies have offered such services in China in recent years, according to the Shanghai newspaper National Business Daily.
While there are no official statistics, the number of Chinese citizens traveling to the U.S. to give birth likely is in the tens of thousands each year. The cost of a trip, including medical expenses, runs from $20,000 to $80,000.
At the time of the 2015 raids, Gary Chodorow, a U.S. immigration lawyer based in China, told USA TODAY that “birth tourism “is part of the cultural fabric now in China,” Chodorow said.
Expectant mothers typically arrive two months before birth and stay one more for postpartum recovery. Then they return to China, where government officials would not punish the parents for violating birth control rules under the then-strict “one child” policy. because a second child is considered an American. At 18, however, the child must choose whether to be a U.S. or Chinese citizen.
In 2016, China dropped the 36-year-old policy to allow all Chinese couples to have two children.
The one-child policy was instituted in 1980 as part of the country’s planned economy to try to slow China’s population growth and to address severe shortages of capital, natural resources and consumer goods.