Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the nation’s first-ever federal criminal charges against businesses and customers of “birth tourism,” the controversial practice of leveraging United States immigration law to obtain citizenship for pregnant mothers’ children.
The DOJ’s case centered around three birth tourism businesses that allegedly encouraged immigration fraud while trying to hustle Chinese mothers into the United States before they gave birth. The businesses made millions of dollars from their schemes while both they and their customers failed to pay Americans for their services, including hospital fees.
“Anyone who would exploit our nation’s generosity and our legal immigration system should be on notice – they may end up being the ones to pay a very steep price,” Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles, said in a press release on Thursday.
Chinese ‘birth tourism’ clients were coached on how to lie to US officials about the purpose and length of their trips so their children would receive US birthright citizenship https://t.co/zSyCRgskXs pic.twitter.com/zMgzWD2id9
— ICE (@ICEgov) February 1, 2019
“No one needs to be reminded about the national security and public safety implications of visa fraud and the crimes associated with it,” he added.
Each of the businesses received charges of “conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering, and identity theft.”
According to the DOJ, the businesses advertised the U.S. for its “better air” and “free education,” among other things, and advised the mothers on how to fool U.S. customs by wearing loose clothing. It also alleged that clients received advice to enter the U.S. through Hawaii rather than Los Angeles because customs was easier to pass through on the island.
“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.
“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. Some of the wealthy clients of these businesses also showed blatant contempt for the U.S. by ignoring court orders directing them to stay in the country to assist with the investigation and by skipping out on their unpaid hospital bills.”
According to the Associated Press, one of the businesses’ three operators all pleaded not guilty on Thursday, but many other indictees were thought to have already fled to China.
The news came amid President Donald Trump’s broader crackdown on immigration abuses in the United States. As IJR previously noted, Trump’s administration has overseen repeated and substantial raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has attempted to restrict asylum and refugee entry to the U.S.