Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

San Gabriel 'maternity tourism' operation reignites birthright citizenship debate

Photo by Qi Wei Fong/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A week after Arizona legislators voted down several immigration bills, two of them intended to force an end to automatic U.S. citizenship for children born in this country, the debate over birthright citizenship has a new epicenter. This time, it's the San Gabriel Valley.

The Pasadena Star-News reported this week that San Gabriel city officials shut down a townhouse illegally converted into a makeshift maternity ward, where investigators found several women who were Chinese nationals and their newborns. A code enforcement officer was quoted as saying that it "played a role in the maternity tourism trade which caters to wealthy Taiwanese, Chinese and Koreans."

As the news has spread, California politicians have used the incident to get back into the birthright citizenship debate. In comments posted on news sites, members of the public have also sounded off on the topic, which has been in and out of the headlines for months after federal and state legislators announced plans to introduce anti-birthright citizenship bills earlier this year.

In a follow-up story, state assembly member Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Claremont, told the Star-News that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution needed to be reinterpreted:

"Changing the 14th Amendment won't just stop birth tourism, but (prevent) people who come here illegally from getting a foothold in the country. It's an issue of fundamental fairness," he said.

Assembly member Judy Chu, a Democrat from El Monte, countered:
"The 14th Amendment is fundamental to the U.S. and too important to change because of the practice of a few," Chu said. "I think the practice is far from the norm and it would be a severe disservice to our nation if millions of immigrants are painted with the same brush."

Some of the readers posting comments under today's Los Angeles Times story were quick to make remarks about so-called "anchor babies," some with irony, some not.

Some called for changes to the law, like Fleiter:

The government insists that Mexican women never do this. But these women came all the way from China. Why wouldn't a woman jump in over the Arizona border from Mexico and have an anchor baby? We need to change this stupid, stupid law. No other country does this. It's national suicide.

A reader named Tom wrote:
Yet more evidence for a court test of congress' intent behind the 14th amendment, and if that fails, an repeal to eliminate birthright citizenship.

Others took the opportunity point to what many believe is an unfair focus on Latinos in the immigration debate. "Affableman" wrote:
That's odd, everyone on here keeps telling me the Asians come here legally and it's only the Mexicans who have "anchor babies".

And Lando-Smoke, perhaps anticipating the online debate getting ugly, wrote:
I cant wait to see what all the so-called "Americans" are gonna say about this article, when they post all their hateful comments about "anchor babies"

The San Gabriel operation was shut down March 8, according to news reports. The owner of the house, Dwight Chang, was cited for illegal construction and fined $800. Most of the women and infants have left the country by now.

The practice of birthright citizenship, referred to as jus soli citizenship, is commonplace in the Americas but less common elsewhere. Opponents of birthright citizenship in the U.S. have called for a legal reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, Section 1 of which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.