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A deep dive into the charges against ‘birth tourism’ agency operators




A pregnant woman stands in front of the entrance of Hong Kong Immigration Department on June 29, 2007 in Hong Kong, China.
A pregnant woman stands in front of the entrance of Hong Kong Immigration Department on June 29, 2007 in Hong Kong, China.
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Twenty people have been charged in the largest-ever crackdown on businesses that help Chinese women travel to the United States to give birth to babies who automatically are American citizens, authorities said Thursday.

Three people were arrested in Southern California on charges including conspiracy, visa fraud and money laundering. More than a dozen others have also been charged in cases stemming from three so-called birth tourism businesses, with many believed to be in China, the U.S. Attorney's office said. It is the first time the United States has criminally prosecuted birth tourism operators, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

The businesses - which were raided by federal agents in 2015 - billed Chinese women tens of thousands of dollars to travel to California to deliver their babies in American hospitals so the children would automatically obtain U.S. citizenship, prosecutors said. It isn't illegal to visit the United States while pregnant but authorities said the businesses touted the benefits of having U.S. citizen babies and had women hide their pregnancies while seeking travel visas and lie about their planned trips.

One business allegedly coached women to tell consular officials they planned to visit a Trump hotel in Hawaii when really they would spend three months at an apartment in Irvine, California to give birth. U.S. authorities said the businesses not only engaged in fraud but have created a national security risk. Their customers - some who work for the Chinese government - have secured American citizenship for children who can later move back to the United States, and once they're 21 years old, sponsor their parents for green cards.

With files from the Associated Press.

Guests:

Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, which includes Los Angeles and six other counties

Roxana Kopetman, staff writer at the Orange County Register and Southern California News Group who’s been following the story

Yong Chen, professor of history at UC Irvine where his research focus includes Asian American and immigration history