In March, 2011, authorities raided and closed down several townhouses in San Gabriel, California, for code violations. It was later discovered that the townhouses were operating as maternity centers for Chinese and Taiwanese mothers who paid thousands of dollars in order to give birth to children in the United States so that the children would gain automatic US citizenship. The townhouses which were crammed with babies were operating as makeshift maternity clinics. It’s been reported that the mothers, called ‘maternity tourists,’ pay as much as $35,000 to stay and have babies born in America.
Although we’ve all heard of single, isolated cases of maternity tourism, immigration experts say that the organized business of maternity tourism is becoming increasingly popular. There are cases where businesses in China, Mexico and South Korea advertise packages that arrange for doctors, insurance and postpartum care. Also, the Marmara, a Turkish-owned hotel on the Upper East Side in New York City, has advertised month long “baby stays” that come with a stroller.
These businesses are allowed to advertise because they are perfectly legal. The mothers involved do not cower and operate in fear of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials because they enter the country legally on tourist or student visas, they give birth, then they leave the country with their American babies. They do not overstay their visas, or become undocumented. Also, because the 14 Amendment of the US Constitution grants US citizenship to all children born on U.S. soil there is no fraud or illegality involved in obtaining passports or birth certificates for the babies.
But although the news coverage of maternity tourists has raised some eyebrows, it was not greeted with the same rancor and extreme bitterness as another group of babies who gain US citizenship solely because they were born on US soil – “anchor babies.” The term anchor baby became popular during the 2010 midterm elections. Anchor baby is a term given to a baby born in the United States to a mother who is undocumented. These babies also become citizens as a result of the 14 Amendment.
Anchor babies and the babies of maternity tourists have birthright citizenship in common. However the similarities between these two groups end there. Maternity tourists are rich women who enter the country legally, usually from China, and leave the country with their American babies once the birth is registered. This is different from the case of the mother of the anchor baby who is typically an undocumented immigrant from a poor Latin American country and who stays in the United States after giving birth, frequently taking advantage of the social services and benefits their children qualify for.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads in part: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
While many frown on anchor babies who gain citizenship in spite of their mothers’ illegal immigration status, but give a pass to the “American” child of the rich maternity tourist, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies offers a different perspective. The maternity tourist situation is worse than the illegal immigrant who delivers a baby here, said Mr. Krikorian. “Those kids are socialized as Americans. This phenomenon of coming to the U.S. and then leaving with people who have unlimited access to come back is just ridiculous.”