Federal prosecutors announced an indictment Thursday against 19 people accused of running “birth tourism” operations in Southern California that helped thousands of pregnant Chinese women visit the U.S. just in time to give birth — thus securing American citizenship for their children.
The Justice Department said it’s the first time the government has brought charges against such a business.
Women were charged up to $100,000, were arranged visitor visas, then kept in apartments here in order to give birth. Under U.S. birthright policy almost anyone born on American soil — no matter if it’s to an illegal immigrant, a legal visitor or a citizen — is automatically an American citizen.
The scam operators advertised their businesses in China, saying the U.S. had better air, better jobs, better schools and “the most attractive nationality,” prosecutors said.
Chinese government officials were among the clients, prosecutors said.
Some of the Chinese scammers even skipped out on their medical bills, according to the indictments unsealed Thursday.
“America’s way of life is not for sale,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles.
Three separate birth tourism operations were snared in the new indictments.
They claimed to have facilitated some 8,500 cases over the years, according to prosecutors. Most were Chinese, but women from Taiwan were also customers.
Authorities say the operations, which called themselves “birthing” houses, were dismantled in 2015 and were quite lucrative. One operation collected $3 million in money wired from China to the U.S. in a two-year period.
Prosecutors detailed one communication where a birthing house operator was discussing whether she had to refund a customer’s money because “the baby is a girl, her husband arranged abortion for her.”
Sex-selective abortions are not uncommon in China, which helped push the birth rate for males to 1.15 for every female in 2017, according to World Bank data.
The indictments unsealed Thursday name 19 people, including those who operated the scam, customers of the scam and some who helped facilitate it.
Dongyuan Li, 41, who was arrested Thursday morning, was the operator who sent the message pondering a refund after the abortion.
Prosecutors say she operated You Win USA, which claimed to have served more than 500 Chinese customers, charging between $40,000 and $80,000. Women would come to stay in apartments in Irvine to wait to give birth.
Wen Rui Deng, 65, was accused of running Star Baby Care, which claimed to have operated since 1999 and to have 8,000 clients from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Mr. Deng, who is believed to have fled the U.S., ran apartments in Irvine and Rowland Heights, and counted Chinese government officials among his clients, authorities said.
A third operation, USA Happy Baby Inc., charged up to $100,000 for VIP clients, with apartments in Rancho, Cucamonga and Irvine.
Others involved in the schemes face charges of visa fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
The indictments in those cases date back to last year, and in some cases, judges ordered the accused to remain in the U.S. to help authorities with their investigation. They ignored those orders.
“I’m already home, U.S. can’t do anything to me,” Jun Xiao said in one communication. He and LongJing Yi allegedly racked up a $32,291 hospital bill for the birth of their baby, yet paid only $4,600 and stiffed the hospital on the rest of the bill.
The families accused of using the birth tourism services would lie on their visa applications, saying they planned to stay in the U.S. for only a couple of weeks, when in reality they were going to stay much longer to give birth.
Women were told to come months ahead of their due date and to wear loose clothes so they wouldn’t be singled out by American customs inspectors.
“U.S. might refuse entry due to the belly is too big,” Star Baby Care told expectant mothers. “Therefore the size of the belly is quite important to determine when you should arrive Los Angeles.”
Authorities did not say whether any steps would be taken to revoke the citizenship of the children born to women engaged in the fraud.
“Statements by the operators of these birthing houses show contempt for the United States, while they were luring clients with the power and prestige of U.S. citizenship for their children,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “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.”
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