Federal agents raided a slew of luxury “maternity hotels” in California on Wednesday for allegedly housing Chinese women who wanted to give birth in America.
Department of Homeland Security officials stormed 20 locations in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Bernardino County looking for suspected “birth tourism” operations, in which Chinese nationals allegedly paid “handlers” between $40,000 and $80,000 to advise them on obtaining visas, flying through the least suspicious airports and even disguising their pregnancies, NBC News reported.
“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.
All told, the feds raided 20 locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, targeting three competing birth tourism schemes, officials said. The suspected operators have not been charged but are being questioned.
The organizers who allegedly ran the Carlyle site, Chao Chen and Dong Li, used a website to drum up business, touting the benefits of a child with U.S. citizenship: 13 years of free education, low-cost college financial aid, less pollution, and a path for the entire family to emigrate when the child becomes an adult.
A growing number of Russians are coming to the U.S. to give birth. These kids will have the right to live and work here, receive social services and, when they turn 21, will have the right to sponsor their parents for an American Green Card. Read more: https://t.co/4doKwLoChn pic.twitter.com/zUSom9ui1w
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 10, 2018
The Carlyle has been previously suspected of birth tourism as part of a long-spanning probe, starting in June 2014.
A separate incident occurred in California in 2015, when officials charged 10 Chinese nationals with violating court orders to stay in the U.S. as they investigated the practice.
Birth tourism has been somewhat popular in the United States, with court papers cited in the NBC article estimating that 40,000 children every year were born to women who are in the U.S. on a travel visa.