The coronavirus may end up being the vehicle that shuts down fraudulent birth tourism hotels, something that federal immigration law enforcement agencies have largely been unable or unwilling to do.
The Orange County, Calif., planning board unanimously voted recently to rescind the JR Motel’s operating permit which has since 2015 allowed it to operate as a birth tourism motel and provide special services to pregnant Chinese nationals whose sole intention is to give birth to U.S. citizens. The official reason the commission gave for revoking JR’s permit was deception in the motel’s 2015 application. But since the coronavirus is on all Americans’ minds, including the commissioners, connecting the dots between the motel and its unwise encouragement of Chinese visitors is an easy call.
Within the two-story motel encompassing 23,128 square feet are six suites, three with kitchenettes, and three double rooms also with kitchenettes, two multipurpose conference rooms, a play room and laundry areas, a layout that appears designed to appeal to expectant women. A Google image search shows that the JR Motel’s ambience cannot be confused with The Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons hotels. As Commissioner David Vazquez said during the meeting: “What is very clear, it’s not a motel.” The City Council will determine JR’s ultimate fate at a future but as yet undetermined date.
Chinese are more likely to take advantage of birth tourism’s ambiguity than other nationals. But in the past decade, Taiwanese, Koreans, Nigerians, Turks, Russians, Brazilians and Mexicans have taken advantage of the scam. Ten years ago, ABC News first reported that the Turkish-owned luxury hotel, the Marmara, began offering birth tourism packages. Russians have arrived in large numbers to Miami to deliver their children, and ironically have stayed at subleased Trump-branded hotels and condominiums. Neither the Trump organization nor the president have profited from the subleases, however.
When it comes to outfoxing the federal government on immigration fraud, birth tourists have displayed amazing ingenuity. In the Northern Marianas Territory, a U.S. possession that doesn’t require a passport to enter, births to Chinese tourists exceed births to indigenous peoples.
Traveling to the U.S. or its territories from abroad while pregnant isn’t a crime. But visa, passport and tax fraud as well as money laundering and identity theft, crimes often associated with birth tourism, are federal felonies which lax immigration enforcement has since at least 2003 tacitly endorsed.
Since birth tourism operators are so blatant and so unscrupulous, the feds’ disregard for citizenship-for-sale is unconscionable. Country-of-origin websites advertise the multiple advantages of American citizenship for the yet-to-be-born children. Among them are free K-12 public education, low in-state college tuition, Social Security privileges, and lifetime valid work permission.
The website operators also help in securing the necessary visas, and promise the prospective mothers that caring staff will, speaking to them in their native language, cater to their every need, including chauffeured trips to the local mall. Fees charged to the well-heeled families range up to $80,000, a sum that most participants consider a cheap price to pay for their children’s American citizenship which will allow them when they turn 21 to petition their fathers and mothers to join them. The last straw: U.S. taxpayers frequently subsidize birth tourism when the unscrupulous visitors skip out on their unpaid hospital bills.
At a 2018 rally for Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial hopeful Ron DeSantis, both eventual winners, President Trump railed against birthright citizenship that, he said, “has created an entire industry of ‘birth tourism.’” But to date, President Trump has taken only baby steps to end birth tourism.
Effective January 24, the State Department authorized consular officials to deny a visitor B-1 and B-2 visas for business and tourism, respectively, if the officers believe the applicant intends to travel to the U.S. for the primary purpose of giving birth. The State Department added that birth tourism is “a glaring immigration loophole” and that the practice is “rife with criminal activity,” which forces taxpayers to finance its “direct and downstream costs.”
As welcome as the State Department’s intervention is, a more effective approach would include stepped-up targeting of known birth tourism hotels by Homeland Security Investigations, and prosecuting the criminal owners to the full extent of the law, which means hefty fines and prison time.