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The difficult case of “foothold babies”: Is it time for America’s immigration laws to be rewritten?

A premature baby weighing about 1.8kg rests in an incubator.
A premature baby weighing about 1.8kg rests in an incubator.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Last week the City of San Gabriel stumbled upon a very unusual discovery: a full-fledged baby nursery operating out of a townhouse, catering to Chinese mothers who were legally in the U.S. on tourist visas for the sole purpose of giving birth to a would-be American citizen. The debate over “anchor babies” is a fierce and politically charged one that’s been underway for years—but it’s usually about the children of Latino illegal immigrants born in the U.S. with the intent of keeping undocumented parents legally in the country. The discovery in San Gabriel is not the same debate, partially because these mothers and babies are often not staying in the U.S. What’s the motivation for Chinese mothers to give birth to their children here? Is there anything illegal in that action, and is there any way (or reason) to stop it? Is the idea of birthright citizenship simply becoming outdated?


Angelo Paparelli, partner practicing immigration law with the national firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP