CHINO HILLS, Calif. -- A California city is taking on an alleged "maternity hotel" that caters to Chinese and Taiwanese women who want to give birth in America so their children will be citizens.
The alleged operation in Chino Hills, Calif., is one of a number throughout Southern California catering to such pregnant foreign women.
The city has issued a cease-and-desist order and plans to go to court in the next few weeks to shut down the operation, Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley said at a recent City Council meeting. Among the issues cited by the city: illegal additions to the structure, a sewage spill, and operating a business in a residential zone.
In the past few years, several San Gabriel Valley cities have closed birthing centers on similar grounds.
Last year, the city of San Gabriel closed a maternity home after complaints of numerous pregnant women entering and leaving the home, said Clayton Anderson, head of code enforcement for that city. Inspectors found a row of bassinets holding babies in the kitchen, he said.
The Chinese-language website, www.asiamchild.com, that has photos of the Chino Hills home also lists birthing centers in Rowland Heights, Calif..
A Taiwanese consultant to nine Southern California maternity homes told The Sacramento Bee earlier this year that there are more than 40 such businesses in the Los Angeles area alone.
The women travel to the United States so their children, as citizens, later will have educational and job opportunities in the United States and in some cases in the hope that the children petition for their parents to become legal U.S. residents, the consultant said.
Anyone born in the United States automatically is granted U.S. citizenship.
At age 21, U.S. citizens can petition to have their foreign-born parents live in the United States, said Claire Nicholson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It's irrelevant how many years the citizen had lived in the United States, she said.
There are no reliable statistics on the number of women who give birth in the United States and then return to their homelands.
Birth tourism, as the phenomenon is sometimes called, is not against the law.
Foreign women can obtain tourist visas for the purpose of giving birth in the United States before returning to their homelands, said Beth Finan, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman.
On its website, Asiamchild.com touts the benefits of U.S. birth, including free public schools, the right to vote, medical care and low-interest student loans.
The typical cost for two months of prenatal care and a month of convalescence after birth is $15,620 to $18,320, including airfare, the site says.
As Chino Hills moves to shut the alleged business down, neighbors continue to organize. On Dec. 1, dozens of demonstrators carrying signs with slogans such as "No birth tourism" and "No More Anchor Babies" protested in front of the house and at a nearby busy intersection.
Carol Arredondo said she's upset not only at the traffic in what had been a quiet neighborhood. She's also bothered that the children likely will be raised abroad and only return to the United States to attend school or college.
"They haven't paid taxes" but will benefit from publicly funded institutions, she said.
Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at University of California, Riverside, said in-state college tuition and financial aid isn't the only reason Asian parents want U.S.-born children. Leading Asian universities are extremely competitive, and it's often easier for Asian students to get admitted to a top-notch U.S. university, he said. Citizens have an advantage over non-citizen foreign students in applying to U.S. universities.
Ramakrishnan said that most of the U.S.-born children who grow up abroad but return to the United States are likely to work in the United States and pay taxes on well-paying jobs.
"Speaking purely from a fiscal perspective, this kind of pattern should not be worrisome," he said.
(Contributing to this story: Josie Wong Donley. Reach reporter David Olson at dolsonpe.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, shns.com.)