Why birth tourism from China persists even as U.S. officials crack downBut it would be inhumane for American officials to force a Shanghai person to go home to the primitive wasteland that is Shanghai:
In 2015, the State Department issued 2.27 million visas to Chinese tourists. It does not track what proportion of visas are issued to birth tourists. Frank Shyong
At 10 a.m. on a cold morning in April at Whittier Medical Center, Sophia was born.
She was a healthy baby girl at 7 pounds and 1 ounce, with a future in America to look forward to, if she chose it.
Her mother, Tracy, came from Shanghai to give her this choice — a chance at the world’s best education, a safe childhood and reliable medical care without long lines.
“I’m here to give my kids better options,” said Tracy, who asked to be referred to by her first name because she has read stories about U.S. officials cracking down on mothers who come to America to give birth.
Even as middle class incomes in China enjoy explosive growth, and 96% of Chinese people in a recent Pew Research poll say their lives are better than their parents’, an unknown number of “birth tourists” like Tracy cross oceans each year to have their babies in America.Do you ever get the feeling that our government isn’t really trying on immigration fraud?
And in America’s Chinese enclaves, they find a cottage industry of Chinese midwives, drivers and doctors who accept cash and “maternity hotels” — apartments or homes run as hotels for the women during their pregnancies.
Chinese listing sites show several hundred maternity hotels in Southern California, though it’s not clear how many of the listings are active.
Anyone who lies about the purpose of their visit to the U.S. can be charged with visa fraud, but birth tourism per se is not illegal.
“There is nothing in the law that makes it illegal for pregnant women to enter the United States,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Critics, however, blast the practice as a way to gain citizenship for children by unfairly gaming the immigration system. And spurred in part by those complaints, U.S. officials at every level are exploring ways to crack down on maternity hotels.
That the practice persists, birth tourists say, is a testament to the hold that America still has on Chinese imaginations.
Restrictive family planning policies may have driven some Chinese mothers to give birth in America before 2015, when the one-child policy ended. But many others are simply curious about America and exploring the possibility of a life in the U.S., said Kelly, a birth tourist who has settled in Riverside County’s Eastvale neighborhood.
“China has developed very quickly,” said Kelly, who also declined to provide her first name. “But … Chinese people still have this perception of America as a dream place to live, that it is bigger, better, stronger.”
In 2015, the State Department issued 2.27 million visas to Chinese tourists. It does not track what proportion of visas are issued to birth tourists.
Childbirth is a legitimate reason to travel to the U.S., and as long as Chinese nationals provide the correct paperwork and evidence they can pay for their medical care, they will be issued a visa, department officials said. …If only the U.S. government simply declared all 1.2 billion Chinese and their posterity unto the seventh generation to be U.S. citizens with all the rights and privileges such as instate tuition at Berkeley and financial aid at USC, this problem would be solved.
In the San Gabriel Valley, where birth hotels are an open secret, local leaders field a steady stream of complaints from area residents who oppose maternity hotels. In Chino Hills, a group of residents protested the presence of birth hotels in the neighborhood, and Arcadia police even assigned a detective to investigate the businesses in response to residents’ complaints.
In 2013, Los Angeles County formed a birth tourism task force to tackle the issue. The task force has identified and cited 34 birthing hotel operators for running businesses on land that is zoned for residential use. But there is still no county regulation against running hotels for foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. for the sole purpose of giving birth. …
Karin Wang, a vice president at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, says she is concerned that such attitudes toward birth tourism reflect xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment. She cast birth tourism as the side effect of a broken immigration system.
“If the immigration system itself worked better, then these convoluted paths that people take to secure status in America would lessen or disappear,” Wang said.
By the way, something that most Americans don’t realize is that the college financial aid system (which is, most importantly, price discounts on tuition based on your financial status) is largely restricted to American citizens. My sons received six figures worth of “grants” (i.e., discounts off the list price), which they wouldn’t have been eligible for if they weren’t American citizens. Foreigners typically pay list price at American undergrad colleges.
Not that many Americans understand this benefit to American citizenship — colleges don’t spell it out that often because it seems politically incorrect these days for American colleges to discriminate in favor of Americans. Fortunately, the system was set up awhile ago, so it does. Not many Americans understand this, but lots of Chinese do. So that’s one motivation for birth tourism — if your kid is an American citizen, you can save a bundle 18 years later on American college tuition.
On a recent weekday in Rowland Heights, a block from the birth hotels raided by immigration officials last year, Target was having a 50%-off sale on baby clothes and items. Pregnant Chinese mothers packed the aisles.
Tracy settled into a chair at the Starbucks in the Target, wrapped a jacket around Sophia, installed a toy in her chubby fists, then warmed her hands on a cappuccino.
For better or worse, Chinese mothers’ first impression of American life is often in places like Rowland Heights, a mostly-Asian sprawling suburb of homes and vast strip malls 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Birth tourism is the neighborhood’s incognito economic engine — dozens of pregnant Chinese women visit these shopping centers each day, … Among the baby stores, there are home loans on offer, car rentals to go see the homes, real estate agents to guide shoppers and immigration attorneys to handle paperwork.
Many mothers, like Tracy, consider staying. Her reasons have more to do with China’s flaws than U.S. freedoms.
In Shanghai, she says, the buildings are tall and modern, but the rent is high. The skyline is beautiful, but the air isn’t clean and the food isn’t safe. The airport is architecturally impressive but inconvenient. The people speak her language, but they are always judging and comparing, evaluating the clothes she wears, the home and neighborhood she lives in, the school her children will attend. A life in America is a break from all of that.
“Here people are not so competitive, trying to wear better clothes and use better things,” Tracy said. “I don’t even have to wear makeup.” …
Rowland Heights, along with Arcadia and Irvine, have long been plagued with rumors that the communities host “mistress villages” — a slang term in China to describe a housing complex where rich Chinese men house their mistresses.You like us, you really like us!
The rumors are unverifiable …
For the time being, they plan to stay.
“We haven’t really decided that we want to be American, but we like America,” Kelly said.
I’m going to try that line of psychology at Augusta National where they hold The Masters. I’ll show up with my golf clubs and say, “I haven’t really decided that I want to be an Augusta National member, but I like Augusta,” and see if they feel so flattered that I like their country club that they will tell me to play anytime I like. It seems to work on Americans, so maybe it will work on Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s club?