Arcadia, CA – The Santa Anita Inn in Arcadia, California, has made a lucrative business out of charging foreign, non-citizen mothers thousands of dollars so they can give birth to American citizens, and it isn’t alone in the questionable practice.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to those born in the country. While the practice of “birth tourism” does not violate federal law, some are questioning the ethics surrounding the practice.
Birth tourism is popular with wealthy mothers-to-be from several countries, including China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. Most mothers return home after giving birth with their babies. Later, that child is then free from tight international rules for studying at American colleges. Such children at age twenty-one can then also petition for permanent residency for their parents through family reunification.
The government estimates that there were 7,462 births to foreign residents in 2008. The Center for Immigration Studies said close to 40,000 births each year are to “birth tourists”; however, that number could be as high as 200,000.
The Santa Anita Inn offers “birth tourism” packages in two of its out-of-the-way buildings. Guests have reportedly seen women receiving a “pregnancy service” with 24/7 nurses and meals delivered to their rooms as they prepare to give birth.
Though the practice has been denied by the motel’s owners, the activity is not illegal and is widespread across California. Arcadia city officials said that they are aware what was going on at the Arcadia motel but are powerless to intervene.
Assistant City Manager Jason Kruckeberg said, “A number of the rooms over there are being rented by pregnant individuals. They city has been aware of that for quite some time.”
The cost of having a so-called “anchor baby” in America is estimated at $20,000. This includes accommodation, care in the weeks before the birth and a month afterwards, and assistance with immigration.
Maternity hotels don’t violate federal law since a woman is permitted to travel to the U.S. on a tourist visa and give birth. Such tourism allows babies born to foreign mothers to hold American citizenship and a wide range of rights in the U.S., including access to education.
Robert Zhou and Daisy Chao, who now live in Shanghai, run one of China’s oldest and most successful businesses helping well-heeled expectant Chinese mothers travel to the United States to give birth.
The service includes connecting the expectant mothers with one of three Chinese-owned “baby care centers” in California. For the $14,750 basic fee, Zhou and Chao arrange for a three-month stay in a center—two months before the birth and a month after. A room with cable TV and a wireless Internet connection, plus three meals, starts at $35 a day. The doctors and staff all speak Chinese. There are shopping and sightseeing trips.
Zhou and Chao insist that everything they do is legal, noting that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, says anyone born on U.S. soil has the right to citizenship. “We don’t encourage moms to break the law—just to take advantage of it,” Zhou said. “It’s like jaywalking. The policeman might fine you, but it doesn’t break the law.”
“The mainland [China] moms believe the U.S. has better educational resources,” Zhou said. This year, 10 million students are battling for 6.6 million spots at Chinese universities and the chance for a better life. “The competition is too fierce on the mainland,” Zhou said.
A task force was established last month by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors after numerous complaints across the state about similar establishments.
In Chino Hills last month, a campaign group was set up to oppose “birth tourism” taking place at a large gated property. The demonstrators were against the ethical element of “birth tourism” along with practical issues such as the constant stream of traffic at the site.