By Jubilee Cheung
The federal government has been cracking down on the operation of “maternity hotels,” which have recently become especially prominent in California. Maternity hotels were developed with the purpose of facilitating the process by which foreigners can obtain American citizenship for their babies. Expecting mothers – mostly wealthy Chinese – pay anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 to be housed and cared for in the United States until delivery by these maternity hotels, whereupon their children are granted instantaneous citizenship by simple virtue of their birth taking place on American soil. Guests of maternity hotels are often treated to relatively luxurious quarters with ample amenities, complemented by a comprehensive menu plan, all of which they enjoy throughout their pregnancy. The use and operation of these facilities, referred to as birth tourism, are heavily frowned upon for their exploiting the birthright aspect of American citizenship.
It is somewhat difficult to find straightforward, solid wrongdoings with which to charge the practitioners of birth tourism, as well as the founders of maternity hotels: the whole concept is relatively new, and thus makes for something of a bizarre case without much legal precedent. There are, in fact, currently no legal issues involved in operating a maternity hotel, so long as they are properly licensed. But a closer look reveals, if nothing else, at least some technical flaws with the system. The target guests that most commonly solicit the hotels’ services, obviously expecting women, enter the country with the singular purpose of having American-born children. It would clearly be in their best interest, however, to cite a different reason for their coming to the United States; but to do so would necessitate visa fraud, which does constitute an illegal action.
Repercussions of a different nature also exist, that argue against the practice of birth tourism as a whole. Operators of the less wholesome maternity hotels assist guests in claiming unemployment, which drastically reduces the costs of their hospital fees and sometimes eliminates them altogether. One such couple, who had paid a total hospital bill of only $4,000, was found to have been throwing substantial sums of money at luxury hotels and brand name products. This clearly fraudulent practice serves to put hospitals at an economic disadvantage, while simultaneously demonstrating a flagrant lack of respect.
Birth tourism is apparently growing in popularity, with one study finding that roughly 40,000 children are born annually in the United States to women on travel visa. The recent crackdown on the operation of maternity hotels in Southern California culminated in the raid of the Carlyle, a lavish facility located in Irvine and managed by Jie Zhu, Dong Li and Chao Chen. No women were arrested as a result of the raid, but are expected to serve as witnesses to any future action taken. While while running a maternity hotel is still not technically a criminal activity, so long as they operate under the necessary licenses, authorities are seeking to open a case on charges of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering, all of which are illegal actions.
The many mothers-to-be that choose to use maternity hotels do have their reasons for doing so; the promise of American citizenship holds the appeal of free education and a high quality of living. The guests of these hotels often solicit their services in the hopes of giving their children a better life in the United States that would have been unattainable elsewhere. While it is difficult to fault these families for that particular train of thought, it does not by any means excuse the duplicity of their wrongdoings. Rather, the desperation of their actions suggests that a reexamination of current U.S. immigration procedures is in order.
Whatever course of action is taken with regard to the existence of maternity hotels, it must address and eliminate the issue of their often fraudulent practices. While the measures employed by these hotels straddle a gray moral area, it would be imprudent to allow their open exploitation of American birthright to go unpunished altogether. Still, one would hope that all aspects of the situation at hand are taken into account. It would ultimately be in the best interest of all involved that the root of the problem be dealt with, rather than its symptoms, but in a manner that adequately accounts for the wrongs that have been committed.
Image by Shamus Halkowich
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