Birth Tourism: $50,000 for a U.S. Birth Certificate?

pregnant (165x200)The governor of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), Eloy Inos, and the territory’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, Gregorio Kilili Sablan, say they are working to try to stop birth tourism.

Birth tourism involves pregnant women (and their spouses) coming to the U.S. solely to have their babies on American soil as U.S. citizens.

CNMI is considering a proposal to raise the cost of a birth certificate from the current USD 20 to USD 50,000 for the babies of tourists, according to Radio New Zealand International, the Saipan Tribune, and Congressman Sablan.

Off the cuff, I’d guess that a USD 50,000 price tag for a birth certificate would be considered by courts to be unconstitutional–a violation of equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment–because the government doesn’t have a sufficiently strong rationale to discriminate against this group of U.S. citizen children based solely on the immigration status of their parents.

In CNMI, the government has also encouraged Asiana Airlines to be more vigilant in screening passengers after a report showed the carrier is the airline of choice for those who fly to Saipan solely to give birth. And CNMI leaders have reached out to the Chinese consulate general in Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for help to address the issue.

The epicenter for birth tourism in the U.S. is Los Angeles. Birth tourism is partly driven by shady Chinese agencies which promote it. As an immigration attorney, I regularly meet parents who have been advised by such agencies to lie in their visa applications (to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate) and/or at the port of entry (to DHS). They say they are going to the U.S. for tourism or business but in fact are going to give birth. After they’ve given birth, when the parents apply for a new U.S. visa, the consular officer refuses the visa and informs them that their misrepresentation makes them permanently ineligible to obtain a visa or enter the U.S. The parents are usually devastated when I confirm this. Even though their child is a U.S. citizen (and not a Chinese citizen, since China doesn’t recognize dual nationality), still the parents can’t return to the U.S., except in narrow circumstances that allow a small percentage of these parents to qualify for a waiver (like a pardon).

For more, see this three-part series on shady Chinese agencies promoting U.S. birth tourism:

  • Part 1 is an English translation of an investigative report about these agencies by Yicai, a Chinese financial news website. The agencies guide expectant mothers in applying for U.S. visitors’ visas on false pretenses, while hiding their pregnancies. The agencies also operate unlicensed “postpartum care centers” (月子中心) in residential U.S. neighborhoods, where the women are stashed while waiting to give birth and then to recuperate. Several centers have been shut down in response to protests and complaints of zoning violations and operating without a license.
  • Part 2 discusses Hong Kong’s struggle with the problem. A crackdown by Hong Kong on Mainland birth tourists is reportedly increasing the flow to the U.S.
  • Part 3 discusses possible U.S. policy responses.