Fed crackdown on US birth tourism

 

The US Department of Justice in Santa Ana has said that the three agencies each brought hundreds of pregnant women to the US from overseas. The agencies advertised the benefits of having US-citizen babies, as the children could receive free public education and help their parents immigrate to the USA from China. These are the first charges against operators and customers in this politically controversial industry.

The formal charges stem from a series of early morning raids conducted in March 2015, when 200 federal agents searched 35 homes and apartments and interviewed pregnant women in Irvine, Rowland Heights and Rancho Cucamonga- in Southern California.

The agencies were named as Dongyuan Li who ran a company called You Win USA, Michael Wei Yueh Liu and his wife Jing Dong, who operated San Bernardino-based company USA Happy Baby. 

All three entered not guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit visa and immigration fraud, international money laundering, identity theft, false tax returns, and fraudulent leasing of apartments and houses used for birth tourism. 16 other people have also been charged, including Wen Rui Deng, who ran birth tourism agency Star Baby Care; all now live in China. 

The three birthing houses in California were closed down after the 2015 raids by a multi-agency task force from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Irvine Police and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s departments.

Chinese mothers-to-be paid between US$40,000-US$80,000 each to go to California, stay in a luxury apartment and give birth. Prosecutors allege that the three agencies made millions of dollars from the enterprises between 1999 and 2015.

Birth tourism itself is not illegal, nor is visiting the USA while pregnant. The charges allege that the agencies helped women lie about their pregnancies when seeking travel visas and hospitals were left with many unpaid bills. Defendants deny these claims, arguing that they only provide accommodation and medical assistance.

In the 2015 raids, many people were designated as material witnesses but most later fled to China and have been charged with violating federal court orders, while a lawyer who helped them leave the country has already been convicted of obstruction of justice.

Federal agencies have made claims that birth tourism is a threat to national security and public safety, but with the 4-year delay in making charges, this risks making them look politically motivated; particularly as President Trump has railed against the practice of birth tourism.

Birth tourism businesses have long operated in California and other states and cater to couples from China, Russia, Nigeria and elsewhere.

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