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Agents target industry helping Chinese women have US babies

CALIFORNIA — Federal agents yesterday (March 3) raided about 20 Southern California locations suspected of involvement in “maternity tourism” schemes providing travel, lodging and medical care to pregnant foreign women seeking to give birth in the United States, immigration officials said.

Agents target industry helping Chinese women have US babies

Federal agents swarmed the complex in the Orange County where authorities say a birth tourism business charged pregnant women US$50,000 for lodging, food and transportation. Photo: AP

CALIFORNIA — Federal agents yesterday (March 3) raided about 20 Southern California locations suspected of involvement in “maternity tourism” schemes providing travel, lodging and medical care to pregnant foreign women seeking to give birth in the United States, immigration officials said.

Authorities say the so-called maternity hotels targeted in the sweep catered largely to wealthy women from China who paid US$15,000 (S$20,441) to US$80,000, depending on services offered, in hopes of obtaining US citizenship for their children.

The locations searched included three apartment complexes — one each in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties — suspected of housing foreign clients, according to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Businesses engaged in maternity tourism, also known as “birth tourism,” are believed to have been operating for several years, relying on websites, newspaper advertising and social media to promote their services, immigration officials said.

As part of the package, clients were promised they would receive social security numbers and US passports for their infants, ICE said, documentation the mothers would take with them when they returned to their home countries.

Once the children reach adulthood, they can seek US visas for relatives living abroad.

More expensive packages include recreational activities, such as visits to Disneyland and shopping malls, ICE said.

Clients apparently pay cash for prenatal medical treatment and delivery of their babies. At least some have fraudulently benefited from sharply discounted hospital rates normally reserved for indigent or uninsured patients, according to court documents.

No criminal arrests were anticipated from yesterday’s raids, which were carried out by federal agents and local law enforcement, said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations office in Los Angeles.

The US Constitution grants citizenship to any child born on US soil, regardless of parentage, and immigration experts say there is nothing inherently illegal about women coming from abroad to give birth in the United States.

“It is fertile ground for this kind of scheme,” said Mr Arnold, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations in Los Angeles. These people were told to lie, how to lie, so that their motives for coming to the US wouldn’t be questioned.”

The sweep was believed to mark the first such enforcement action against a cottage industry that has gained a growing foothold in the United States in recent years while operating largely out of sight of federal authorities, he said.

US Customs and Border Protection warns on its website that officers at airports and on the border will consider a pregnant woman’s due date, travel plans and medical insurance to determine whether she can enter the country.

They typically arrive through tourist destinations such as Hawaii or Las Vegas to avoid heightened scrutiny they might otherwise encounter at Los Angeles International Airport, officials said. AGENCIES

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