Agents target industry helping Chinese women have US babies
Federal agents searched three dozen homes in California during a crackdown on so-called maternity tourism operators who arrange for pregnant Chinese women to give birth in the US, where their babies automatically become American citizens.
The investigation of three alleged birth tourism rings may be the biggest yet by federal homeland security agents who said that, while pregnant women may travel to the United States and deliver their babies here, they cannot lie about the purpose of their trip when applying for a visa.
Authorities believe people from other countries are carrying out similar schemes but recent cases in California have catered to wealthy visitors from China, most likely due to the country's large population, recent economic boom and ties to the region. It is unclear how many women travel to the United States for maternity tourism.
"It is fertile ground for this kind of scheme," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's homeland security investigations in Los Angeles. "These people were told to lie, how to lie, so that their motives for coming to the US wouldn't be questioned."
Shortly after sunrise, dozens of federal agents swarmed an upscale apartment complex in the Orange County city of Irvine, where authorities say a birth tourism business known as You Win USA Vacation Resort marketed to pregnant women who were then charged $50,000 for lodging, food and transportation.
Investigators said women were coached to lie about their travel plans when applying for tourist visas and to wear loose clothing to hide their pregnancies, and they were promised Social Security numbers and US passports for their babies before returning to China.
In one instance, a trainer in China helped fabricate employment and income information for an undercover federal agent posing as a pregnant client to secure a tourist visa. The undercover agent was encouraged to fly through Hawaii, where customs officers were believed to be more lenient than in Los Angeles, according to a copy of an affidavit in support of a search warrant.
The business netted its owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years and helped Chinese tourists deliver more than 400 American babies at just one Orange County hospital, the court papers said.