Nobody can put a price on a child but giving your son or daughter American citizenship does have one: from $40,000 to $100,000, according to grand jury indictments unsealed Thursday in Los Angeles.
In the biggest federal criminal probe yet into “birth tourism” — the process of entering the U.S. to give birth and claim American citizenship for the child through the 14th Amendment — the indictments charge 19 people with crimes related to travel agencies specialized in aiding birth tourism.
While giving birth in the U.S. is not illegal, federal officials can deny visas or entry to foreigners they suspect are visiting the U.S. for that purpose. Agencies involved sought to get around this by coaching their clients to hide their bellies and book luxury stays in Hawaii, to make their trips appear like vacations. One of these “You Win USA” operating out of Irvine, California, was raided in 2015 along with two other companies.
The owner of “You Win USA,” Dongyuang Li, made millions on her business, buying a $2.1 million home outright along with a new Mercedes-Benz, the Associated Press reports. She was arrested Thursday, as were Michael Wei Yueh Liu and Jing Dong, operators of “USA Happy Baby”.
Despite the scale of the operation, it’s likely to just be the tip of the iceberg. “We are talking about three takedowns in L.A. when there are probably 300,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Mark Zito told the New York Times.
While the agencies in this week’s indictment focused on assisting Chinese nationals, special agent Zito told the Times that Russia, Nigeria, and Middle Eastern countries are also major players in the industry.