Two New Takes on "Birth Tourism"

By David North, February 28, 2012

Two different aspects of "birth tourism" have come to light recently.

The birth tourism issue is a subset of the broader birthright citizenship matter; birth tourism involves pregnant alien women visiting a nation briefly to have a child that acquires that nation's citizenship instantly. The mother and the baby then leave, at least for a while.

Birthright citizenship involves the broader question of whether infants born to non-citizen residents of, and visitors to, the nation should become citizens at birth, as is the practice in much of the Western Hemisphere, and not in the other half of the globe. In this scenario both mother and baby usually stay in the nation where the birth takes place.

For more on the broader issue, see the CIS Backgrounder written by my colleague Jon Feere.

What we have learned recently is that Canada is understandably worried about the practice of birth tourism and may do something about it, while a distant U.S. territory, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), egged on by Mainland policies, seemingly encourages it.

Canada. The matter in Canada is straightforward, and lacks the complexities, even the deviousness, of the CNMI situation.

The Conservative Party's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (aside: wouldn't it be great if the U.S. had a single official in charge of all immigration matters?) has noticed the practice, apparently largely confined to women from Mainland China.

He was quoted in the Toronto Sun as saying "We don't want people to get the idea that citizenship is a way to get a passport of convenience, that Canada is a country to be exploited."

The Sun article continued, "The Chinese fraud is mostly based in Hong Kong where bogus immigration agents are coaching wealthy mainlanders how to keep their pregnancies hidden while entering Canada . . . All babies born in Canada are considered citizens – meaning that they could return later in life as students, for example, and sponsor their parents under family reunification applications . . ."

The article also mentioned an aspect of birth tourism that was new to me; again, to quote the Minister, "In fact . . . hospital administrators in Montreal have raised the problem with me . . . in that they have seen a growing number of people ostensibly as visitors giving birth to children and immediately leaving without paying their hospital bill."

They have a rough-and-ready solution to the same hospital bill problem in the Marianas: no payment, no birth certificate, and hence no passport for the baby.

The immigration minister said that his government is considering changing the law to prevent such babies from becoming citizens. In Canada, as is not the case in the U.S., there is no discussion of changing a constitution. A simple statutory change apparently is all that is needed there.

As a parent of a one-time Canadian university student, let me add to the list of benefits received by an outsider attending a Canadian university. After one term at Dalhousie University in Halifax (very inexpensive in those days), during which I paid medical insurance for my U.S. citizen son, he was deemed a temporary resident of Canada, and thereafter was covered, free, by Canada's impressive national medical insurance scheme.

CNMI. One of the blessings of these islands, from the point of view of a well-to-do pregnant Chinese woman, is that they are a lot closer to mainland China than to either Canada or the rest of the United States, and the costs of birth tourism are much less.

In a sprightly pair of news stories, the Marianas Variety, much the better of the two dailies in these islands which lie just north of Guam, reports that the costs to the new parents "range between $8,000 and $15,000" and that the birthing tourist mothers number from 250 to 450 a year. This would suggest that the dollar value to the birth clinics and other island interests ranges from $2 million to $6.75 million a year.

But as it usually is the case in immigration, the benefits are privatized and the costs are borne by the taxpayers. The benefits, in this instance, go to CNMI businesses, and the costs to the U.S. Mainland.

In the long run, it is highly unlikely that any of these Chinese infants, on growing up, will go back to the Marianas; it will be Hawaii or more likely the U.S. Mainland that gets the impact of the additional people, and thus it is no skin off the noses of the CNMI's indigenous population. The local government, on the other hand, is extremely vigorous in seeing to it that another group of aliens, the people who actually do the physical work in the islands, are not be allowed to become citizens and thus voters, as we have reported in previous blogs.

While the Variety did not mention the above cost-transfers – which are, after all, a little esoteric – it does describe some of the chilling consequences of births that do not end happily. The babies needing neonatal medical care, as mini-citizens, have their expenses covered by Medicaid, which is supported by U.S. taxpayers. According to the newspaper report:

A baby was born at [the local hospital] to Chinese parents but suffered from major deformities that resulted in numerous complications and a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The local Chinese facilitator/guide advised the father to demand "medical referral to Hawaii" because the child was a U.S. citizen.

Additionally, the father was told to apply for social security disability for the child so he would have income while the baby undergoes further medical care.

And:

... sources also described a similar case from two years ago when the child and the Chinese parents were medically referred to San Diego.
That case ended tragically when the parents disappeared into thin air and abandoned the baby at the hospital.

There are a couple of aspects of U.S. immigration policy that makes these practices possible. Generally, the U.S. does not (nor does Canada) have any restrictions on pregnant aliens flying in as tourists. Secondly, in the case of CNMI, Washington – under pressure from island businesses – has extended the visa waiver program, for Guam and CNMI only, to people from Russia and China. This allows the pregnant Chinese women to come to CNMI, have a baby, and get a passport for the infant while her legal presence (perhaps with a 15-day extension) is still in force.

The Mainland government, on this and many other issues, is just too accommodating to narrow insular interests.

By the way, the two Variety articles – here and here – should be models for Mainland investigative reporters; they are clear-eyed analyses of hidden problems, apparently written after a lot of legwork and many interviews with reluctant sources.

For instance, reporter Tammy Doty wrote:

[The translator] further stated no Chinese mother would agree to an interview because the preference was [to] not draw attention to what many opposed to the industry describe as "the purchase of the ultimate American souvenir [a U.S. passport] ..."

The lucrative, tight-knit, secretive industry has also exploded in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and New York.

She spent some time in the clinics serving the mothers where, to quote her story, "on any given day . . . pregnant Chinese women, translators and in many cases husbands are visible with blue hospital registration cards and wads of cash ..."

The reporter is not known to me, but it would be a pity if Ms. Doty's reporting skills were confined to those islands.