Traveling to the U.S. to give birth to a U.S.-citizen child, or birth tourism, is not a new industry. In January 2018, DHS raided 20 “maternity hotels” in Los Angeles suspected of housing “birth tourism” operations. A neighbor who lived near one of the apartment buildings reported that “a forklift delivered an excessive quantity of diapers to the building, but [she] did not realize the extent of the scheme.” Authorities are most interested in identifying and charging the owners of the so-called travel agencies, i.e., organizations set up in the U.S. to provide services to women who want to give birth to a U.S. citizen. These agencies charge as much as $100,000 for their services and allegedly engage in various criminal schemes to overcome U.S. immigration laws. In January 2019, for the first time ever, law enforcement officials made arrests and charged birth tourism operators with conspiracies to commit immigration fraud and money laundering.
Currently, no immigration restrictions explicitly forbid a woman from traveling to the U.S. to give birth to a U.S.-citizen child, as long as she can prove she has the assets to pay for medical care and housing. Nevertheless, believing consular officers or officers at a U.S. port of entry would use their discretion to bar near-term pregnant women from entering the U.S., the travel agencies reportedly coach the women on how to gain entry to the U.S., including making misrepresentations about their job opportunities, familial situation, and educational background. They also encourage the women to enter the U.S. prior to their third trimester in order to conceal the pregnancy, and even go so far as to suggest that the women make their initial entry into Hawaii, posing among other tourists, before traveling to the mainland U.S.
Birthright citizenship was introduced into the U.S. Constitution in 1868, when the 14th Amendment was passed at last, granting citizenship to former slaves who were born in the U.S. but denied citizenship.
Birthright citizenship is not unique to the U.S., but it exists only in a minority of countries.
A former Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, Walter Dellinger, explained:
We believe in a clean slate principle. . . . Whatever questions there are about the legitimacy of parents or grandparents, in our country you get a clean slate. Every new child who is born here is simply and indisputably an American. And that is part of our almost unique national identity.
The topic of birthright citizenship has become more controversial since President Donald Trump raised the notion of eliminating it with an executive order. Others have suggested that the President need not challenge the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Instead, legislation, for example, could make it illegal to come to the U.S. for the sole purpose of giving birth, and highlighting to potential “birth tourists” the downsides to obtaining U.S. citizenship, such as taxation and possible conscription into the U.S. armed services, could depress the incentive to come to the U.S.
The stance against birth tourism will affect thousands of people, primarily from China, Taiwan, Russia, and Turkey, who want to be able to give birth to children who will be eligible immediately for U.S. passports and the attendant longer term benefits, even if they have no current intention of permanently residing in the U.S.