Federal agents swarmed three dozen homes in southern California in an operation cracking down on the “birth tourism” industry.
Birth tourism involves operators charging pregnant women from foreign countries tens of thousands of dollars to stay in “maternity hotels” in the United States until their children are born as American citizens. They also oftentimes receive meals and transportation to and from the doctor and hospital visits.
“It is fertile ground for this kind of scheme,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement official Claude Arnold said. “These people were told to lie, how to lie, so that their motives for coming to the U.S. wouldn’t be questioned.”
Shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, dozens of federal agents stormed an upscale apartment complex believed to be the site of a birth tourism business known as You Win USA Vacation Resort, which markets to pregnant women and charges them as much as $50,000.
Investigators believe that women were coached to lie about their travel plans, told to wear loose clothing to hide their pregnancies, and promised Social Security numbers and passports for their babies. The business owners collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years while 400 babies were born at just one Orange County hospital, according to court papers.
While the controversial birth tourism industry is legal, operators can and have been prosecuted federally for encouraging clients to lie to officials when entering the country and acquiring a visa. Overall, scholars have raised questions about the constitutionality of birthright citizenship, a practice that has stoked resentment from some who believe foreigners are taking advantage of the U.S.
“We’re looking at that very seriously,” President Trump said last August. “Birthright citizenship, where you have a baby on our land — you walk over the border, have a baby, congratulations, the baby’s now a U.S. citizen. We’re looking at it very, very seriously … It’s, frankly, ridiculous.”
No arrests were made, and no charges were filed, but investigators had search warrants they hope will provide them with evidence of suspected crimes.
Earlier this year, the State Department announced plans to crack down on authorizing tourist visas for people believed to be traveling to the U.S. just to give birth.