Feds bust SoCal "birth tourism" ring for Chinese nationals

If “birthright citizenship” vaults to the top of the policy priority list, we can thank NBC News. Last night the outlet ran not one but two stories about “birth tourism,” in which mothers-to-be pay big bucks to come to the US to give birth. On the West Coast, the feds busted a ring in Irvine which had women in twenty different Southern California locations, all of whom wanted to fraudulently claim citizenship for their children:

NBC News was on the scene as Homeland Security agents swept into The Carlyle, a luxury property in Irvine, California, which housed pregnant women and new moms who allegedly forked over $40,000 to $80,000 to give birth in the United States.

“I am doing this for the education of the next generation,” one of the women told NBC News.

None of the women were arrested; they are being treated as material witnesses, and paramedics were on hand in case any of them went into labor during the sweep.

Instead, the investigation was aimed at ringleaders who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free to help Chinese nationals obtain visas and then pamper them until they delivered in an American hospital at a discount, court papers show.

“It’s not necessarily illegal to come here to have the baby, but if you lie about your reasons for coming here, that’s visa fraud,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Los Angeles.

On the East Coast, Homeland Security hasn’t yet caught up with the Russians in Miami. Pregnant women from Russia flock to Florida for the “status symbol” of having an American child, as well as the safety of the American health care system:

In Moscow, it’s a status symbol to have a Miami-born baby, and social media is full of Russian women boasting of their little americantsy. …

Why do they come?

“American passport is a big plus for the baby. Why not?” Olesia Reshetova, 31, told NBC News.

“And the doctors, the level of education,” Kuznetsova added.

Here’s the twist: this isn’t actually illegal. As long as the women don’t lie on their visa applications or insurance paperwork, they aren’t committing any crime. Regardless of whether others operate illegally in setting up their travel and stay, as in the Southern California ring, there is no law which forbids “birth tourism.” As NBC notes, this allows mothers to ensure that their child has a right to enter, reside, and work in the US at any time, and also opens the door for fast-tracked immigration for themselves through family sponsorship.

NBC’s story on the Russians has another, more ironic twist:

While Trump rails against U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, his Florida properties have become a playground for birth tourists from Russia’s upper crust. The Daily Beast has discovered several companies are advertising rentals in Trump properties to expectant Russian parents. While the Trump Organization does not directly profit from subleases of privately owned condos, it does benefit from Russian patronage of the nearby Trump International Beach Resort. …

The Florida Trump properties are convenient options for wealthy Russians who can afford it. They are notorious for being investment properties for Russia’s hyper-wealthy, a safe place to store savings in U.S. dollars. And birth-tourism companies offer Trump apartments as part of packages costing upwards of $75,000.

SVM-MED, a Miami birth-tourism company that also boasts outposts in Moscow and Kiev, offers three tiers of packages to its clients, with the top two advertising lodging in Trump Towers. The most expensive package costs $84,700 for a Trump Tower II apartment with a gold-tiled bathtub and chauffeured Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes Benz.

The Daily Beast reported on this last September, which NBC picks up as part of its report last night. It has little to do with Trump himself, as both the Daily Beast and NBC note, but the tie to his brand is just too juicy to pass up. It will certainly become a standard point when it comes to Trump’s repeated efforts to rethink birthright citizenship, but the Russian angle might leave its liberal defenders in something of a quandry, Phil Kerpen suggests:

Amusing, but NBC notes that the numbers are significant, with an estimated 40,000 births a year from this phenomenon. Of course, the US has over four million births a year, making birth tourism just 1% of all US births. However, over time that adds up to a lot of US citizens, and a lot of non-US families that can seek to emigrate on a fast track without much the US can do about it.

It’s not a crisis, but it is a complication in our immigration system that will at some point have to be addressed. If Trump really wants to push it, he can even claim that his properties will lose money by reform of the process of birthright citizenship by requiring legal residency from one or both parents before it applies. At this point, however, the immigration debate has much more pressing issues under consideration, which makes this sudden interest from NBC at least a little curious. Is it an attempt to bait Trump into making demands that will derail an agreement — or to force Democrats a little more toward the defensive and make an agreement a little more likely?