U.S.

Birth Tourism Scandal: U.S. Smashes Chinese Scheme in First-of-its-kind Swoop

California law enforcement agencies have charged 19 people linked to three “birth tourism” schemes, operating in the southern part of the state, that brought pregnant Chinese women to the U.S. to give birth so their children could obtain American citizenship.

The unsealing of 17 indictments on Thursday marked the first time anyone had been charged in connection with birth tourism, which takes advantage of America's birthright citizenship policy and has recently proved to be a hot-button political issue.

A Department of Justice statement said that three people had been arrested Thursday morning, with another 16 named as “fugitive defendants.” Some of the fugitives were believed to have fled to China.

All were accused of having links to three “birth houses” used by wealthy Chinese women who paid between $15,000 and $80,000 for the service. The three apartment complexes were raided by federal agents in 2015.

The three detained suspects were Dongyuan Li, 41, Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, and Jing Dong 42. The DOJ statement noted that Li had received $3 million in international wire transfers from China in only two years.

The statement explained that Chinese customers were carefully coached to conceal their intentions, lying to the U.S. Consulate in China to gain two-week visitor visas and wearing loose clothes to hide their pregnancies during their journeys.

U.S. citizenship laws operate on the principle of jus soli, meaning that any children born on U.S. soil were automatically granted citizenship. Though not the global norm, birthright citizenship is common in the Western Hemisphere—despite what President Donald Trump might believe.

According to Reuters, experts have said it was not illegal for women to travel to the U.S. to give birth. However, federal law enforcement agencies are working to catch those who obtain visas under false pretences and overstay their time limit to ensure their children are born in the U.S.

“These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws—laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna wrote.

“Some of the wealthy clients of these businesses also showed blatant contempt for the U.S. by ignoring court orders directing them to stay in the country to assist with the investigation and by skipping out on their unpaid hospital bills,” Hanna added.

The DOJ said the birth tourism conspiracies committed immigration fraud, money laundering and defrauded property owners from whom apartments were rented for customers’ use.

US China birth tourism U.S. and Chinese flags displayed before a meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing, on June 30, 2017. California law enforcement agencies have charged 19 people linked to three “birth tourism” schemes that brought pregnant Chinese women to the U.S. to give birth so their children could obtain American citizenship. JASON LEE/AFP/Getty Images

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