Saturday, July 17

Pregnant Chinese travel to USA to obtain US citizenship for baby

U.S. officials confirm it is not a crime to travel to the United States to give birth so that the child can have U.S. citizenship. "You don't deny someone because you know they're going to the U.S. to have children," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing.

Of course you don't deny "someone." This is not a case of individual couples deciding to have their baby in the USA. This is an industry, and industry in China is backed and overseen by China's government.

From The Washington Post today:
SHANGHAI -- What can $1,475 buy you in modern China? Not a Tiffany diamond or a mini-sedan, say Robert Zhou and Daisy Chao. But for that price, they guarantee you something more lasting, with unquestioned future benefits: an American passport and U.S. citizenship for your new baby.

Zhou and Chao, a husband and wife from Taiwan who now live in Shanghai, run one of China's oldest and most successful consultancies helping well-heeled expectant Chinese mothers travel to the United States to give birth.

The couple's service, outlined in a PowerPoint presentation, includes connecting the expectant mothers with one of three Chinese-owned "baby care centers" in California. For the $1,475 basic fee, Zhou and Chao will 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 a day, starts at an additional $35 a day. The doctors and staff all speak Chinese. There are shopping and sightseeing trips.

The mothers must pay their own airfare and are responsible for getting a U.S. visa, although Zhou and Chao will help them fill out the application form.

At a time when China is prospering and the common perception of America here is of an empire in economic decline, the proliferation of U.S. baby services shows that for many Chinese, a U.S. passport nevertheless remains a powerful lure. The United States is widely seen as more of a meritocracy than China, where getting into a good university or landing a high-paying job often depends on personal connections.

"They believe that with U.S. citizenship, their children can have a more fair competitive environment," Zhou said.

There are no solid figures, but dozens of firms advertise "birth tourism" packages online, many of them based in Shanghai, and Zhao said the number has soared in the past five years. But he said that many are fly-by-night operations, unlike his high-quality service.

The customers we serve are very successful and very affluent," he said.

Zhou and Chao insist that everything they do is legal, noting that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed 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."

"We are not snakeheads," he added, using the common term here for Chinese gangsters involved in smuggling illegal immigrants.

U.S. officials confirm it is not a crime to travel to the United States to give birth so that the child can have U.S. citizenship. "You don't deny someone because you know they're going to the U.S. to have children," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing embassy rules.

The spokesman, who said expectant mothers typically claim they are going to the United States as tourists, compared the baby consultancies to services that help foreign students apply for American universities: "If you have the money, they give you the service. They tell you how to prepare your dossier."

"I'm sure people in Congress would call it a loophole," the spokesman said.

Many anti-immigration activists in the United States agree. Some argue that the 14th Amendment -- aimed at guaranteeing citizenship rights to freed black slaves -- was never meant to provide an instant passport to the children of people who are in the country illegally or who travel there expressly to gain U.S. citizenship for their child.

The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have no specific regulations regarding pregnant foreign visitors, which critics see as an issue.

"The problem here is not with the travel agencies or even the women," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. "The real problem is the State Department. The regulations do not permit them to turn pregnant women down."

Krikorian said that it is unclear whether or how the 14th Amendment could be changed and that in any event, Congress has never seriously addressed the possibility.

Zhou, a former marketing director, and Chao, a former television producer in Taiwan, said they have helped between 500 and 600 mothers give birth to American babies in the five years they have been in business. They started with themselves, when Chao went to the United States to give birth to their daughter Fiona, now 4.

Now, they said, their clients include Chinese doctors, lawyers, business leaders, government officials, well-known media personalities -- most of whom do not want media attention and, Zhao said, would not agree to be interviewed.

About 40 percent of their clients come from Shanghai, 30 percent from Beijing and the rest from Guangzhou and elsewhere, including Taiwan. Some, the couple said, were giving birth to their second child to skirt China's one-child policy. Most say they do not intend to live in the United States themselves. [...]