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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Birth Tourism: Time to Change Something

I've been told that some of my political views are built around false stories, that "nobody really does that." As a counterexample in at least one area, consider "birth tourism" and an article that appeared a few months ago in the Los Angeles Times—not exactly a hotbed of raging xenophobia.

Veteran reporter Cindy Chang tells us what she found (link to full article later in this post).
USA Baby Care's website makes no attempt to hide why the company's clients travel to Southern California from China and Taiwan. It's to give birth to an American baby.

"Congratulations! Arriving in the U.S. means you've already given your child a surefire ticket for winning the race," the site says in Chinese. "We guarantee that each baby can obtain a U.S. passport and related documents."
So sure, these folks get the benefits of US citizenship for their baby. But what do the parents get out of it? Chang continues:
That passport is just the beginning of a journey that will lead some of the children back to the United States to take advantage of free public schools and low-interest student loans, as the website notes. The whole family may eventually get in on the act, since parents may be able to piggyback on the child's citizenship and apply for a green card when the child turns 21.
That's right. In other words, just by bearing a child on US soil, you get to move ahead of others in the immigration line.

But of course, this is isolated, right Ms. Chang?
USA Baby Care is one of scores, possibly hundreds, of companies operating so-called maternity hotels tucked away in residential neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and other Southern California suburbs. Pregnant women from Chinese-speaking countries pay as much as $20,000 to stay in the facilities during the final months of pregnancy, then spend an additional month recuperating and awaiting the new baby's U.S. passport.
But surely, that's against the law! Again from the Times:
Federal immigration authorities say no law prevents pregnant women from entering the country.

The road to giving birth in the U.S. begins with an in-person interview at an American consulate in the woman's home country. Neither pregnancy nor the intent to give birth in the U.S. are disqualifying factors. The primary concern is making sure the applicant will not remain in the country indefinitely, the State Department said.
There you have it. As long as the woman herself doesn't plan to stay here indefinitely (or claims she doesn't), she's free to come in and drop a new citizen on us. She'll go home with the baby and its passport. Despite the fact that she lives and pays taxes in China or Turkey or South Korea or Taiwan (all examples given in the article), her little American will be able to come back, live with relatives or friends, and receive a free public education at our expense. If the family is poor, the child will be fully eligible for Medicaid, food stamps, and every other entitlement due it as a natural born citizen. And because of "family reunification" policies, the mom and dad and foreign-born siblings will receive special preference in obtaining visas and work permits.

Read the whole article when you can (and if you have the stomach for it).

Five billion people live in countries a lot poorer than the US. Five hundred million can get here by road (and even for the rest, the cost of international travel falls every year).

It seems likely that more and more people around the world will want to take advantage of this loophole. Should we continue leaving it open? And even if we don't change our birthright citizenship rule, could we at least repeal the "family-reunification" immigration policies?


Blogger Toad said...

As an american indina, all yall are immigrants. Let us still live up to the promise made on the statue of liberty:
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
There are a great number of things that need to be done to revamp the system, but barring immigration is not one of them.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Steve Setzer said...

Toad: Well, I don't see that I said "bar immigration" in the essay. In fact, I believe that I made proposals to "revamp the system." I invite you to critique my two specific proposals -- eliminating birth-based citizenship for infants whose parents are not already citizens, and eliminating family-based preferences for immigration. (I favor the first proposal because I believe that only children of citizen parents should automatically be citizens; I favor the second because I believe that immigration should be based on skills and intelligence, not on relationships.)

9:12 AM  
Blogger Toad said...

Firstly, my apologies: I had originally meant to write "limit" not "ban". That was a failure on my part pertaining to proofreading.
Secondly, as to the two issues directly addressed in your blog post
On the issue of Birthright citizenship: You bring up the issue of birth tourism. I see this as an indication of initiative and drive. These things tend to be passed on at least in part to children.
The other issue you bring up regarding birth tourism- the child will often be raised in a taxpayer subsidised manner. I have issues with those programs, and consider those a seperate issue. I disagree with raising any child, citizen born or otherwise, in a taxpayer subsidized manner. I do not see that particular issue being solved by changing birthright citizenship.
I am interested in why you feel that only children of citizen parents should be citizens. As I see it, that would remove part of what makes America the promised land, open to all.
The second issue you brought up was immagration prioritization. I can think of two arguements in favor of this, one emotional, one more logically based.
One: The emotionally based. People should be united with their children. There are a lot of variants on this, but they usually come to the same thing. Families should be together.
Two: If one person is sucessful enough to be a citizen, and has shown the iniative and effort to become a citizen, they have shown qualities that we want in citizens. Often, relatives will have those same qualities. That said, this arguement does not apply to birth tourism babies in the same way.
I agree immigration should be skills and inteligence based. I have also seen how culture can affect these things heavily, and am in favor of promoting a culture of success via immigration.
A proposal to reform the immigration system: adopt a similar system to New Zealand. No limits on numbers, and certainly no limits based on country of origin. You can renew work visas almost indefintely, as long as you pay taxes, and the easiest way to get citiszenship is to have a certain level of education, (trade schools are acceptable, with preference given to needed professions), starting a cash positive business, or having a job in a high enough tax bracket for a couple years.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Steve Setzer said...

Interesting thoughts, thanks for engaging with me on this Toad.

I'm afraid the initiative argument doesn't move me much. It takes less initiative to immigrate in the jet age. 200 years ago going to America meant leaving your family behind forever; today, you can visit them monthly if you like. That changes the mix of personality types who immigrate.

I do not believe, and did not say, that only children of citizens should be citizens. I believe that only children of citizens should AUTOMATICALLY be citizens. Today, automatic citizenship is by birth location; I would make automatic citizenship go only to those with citizen parents (or parent, maybe). Others would still be free to apply for naturalization.

In the real world taxpayer subsidies aren't going away. My proposal is one limit on such subsidies that has a practical chance of enactment.

The world has changed, and so has America. Principles endure, but policies that were useful for a low-tech federation on a lightly-inhabited continent may be suboptimal for an information age welfare state colossus.

6:52 AM  

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