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Barring Pregnant Visitors?

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 26, 2020

Over and over, the Donald Trump administration makes clear that illegal immigration brings in criminals and others who present dangers to the United States.

But the latest target for the anti-immigrant campaign is pregnant mothers who seek to have their children in this country, resulting in immediate U.S. citizenship for babies, who, of course, offer no discernible dangers beyond waking up multiple times in the night.

Trump argues repeatedly that “birth tourism” is a major problem and that the United States is ““the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits.”

Neither statement is true. The Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank, estimates that there are about 33,000 annual such births a year, as compared with 3,788,235 births overall. And, in fact, more than 30 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, have similar laws.

Ironically or not, the Trump administration made this change of rules effective yesterday, just as he was to address the annual March for Life, to underscore his commitment to “pro-life,” anti-abortion politics — a protest against, um, existing law. To me, it seems a jarring juxtaposition, but like so much else, makes perfect logic in Trumpworld. Both are much more caring about birth rights than about what happens to live children — particularly if their parents are not American citizens.

As that rally was forming, Trump officials said they plan to withhold federal funding from California over its requirement that private insurers cover abortions.

This visa issue again raises the question about whether Trump is solving a national problem or boosting his political campaign. This is not to dismiss enforcement of an abusive practice, but to ask about whether we need a howitzer against a relatively small target, about whether once again, we have a gap between mouth and action.

Among other things, Trump nicely sidestepped going to Congress for any change in the laws and procedures governing immigration, because his ever-growing presidential powers allow him to do so. His orders now instruct consular offices to assess whether women requesting visas to visit the United States are hoping to give birth in this country to obtain U.S. citizenship for the child.


At stake are temporary visitor visas known as B-1 or B-2 visas that allow for travel to the United States for tourism, business or medical care.

The State Department said that consular officers cannot require pregnancy tests to make the determination but would not rule out that a woman’s physical appearance could be taken into consideration. Consular officers will consider “the totality of the circumstances and what comes out in the interview,” a State Department official told journalists.

According to the New York Times, the birth tourism rule raises the burden of proof for pregnant women by outlining in writing that giving birth in the country “is an impermissible basis” for visiting the United States. If a woman says she is entering the country for medical treatment, she will need to satisfy visa officers that she has enough money to pay for such treatments and need to prove that the medical care she is seeking was not available in her home country.

Hmmm. I wonder if our own domestic health services could meet such a test. With hospitals and health insurers closing, merging and rigging prices, do we know that there is equal treatment available in Mississippi and New Hampshire for pregnancy or any other medical treatment?

I keep thinking of the consular staff trying to decide if a woman may be six months pregnant, but unable to ask and trying to make a judgment here that comports with Trump policy. The only thing here that seems clear is that once again, a Trump policy change is going to land itself in the courts for judicial review.

As The Washington Post notes, the Trump administration has cast the rule as a matter of national security and public safety. “Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice,” the White House said. The “birth tourism industry threatens to overburden valuable hospital resources” and defend American taxpayers.


Naturally, immigration attorneys have expressed concern that the regulation is another Trump attempt to use rules, policies and walls to make legal immigration more difficult. They also said the rule could be applied in an unfair ways. It will be that much more difficult for a female applicant to obtain lawful entry into the United States just because she’s female, said one.

Trump has said he wants to end birthright citizenship for the children of noncitizens, which legal scholars say would require Congress to amend the Constitution. The 14th Amendment affords the right of automatic and permanent citizenship to most people born on U.S. soil. Then again, we have seen Trump’s disdain for Constitutional limits on his power.

Multiple news articles about birth tourism have focused on the numbers of affluent Chinese nationals who pay tens of thousands of dollars to patronize “maternity hotels” in California, seeking citizenship for their children so as to maximize their educational opportunities.

At least one birth tourism scheme ended in conviction last year in a probe that began under the Obama administration. Dongyuan Li, 41, pleaded guilty to visa fraud and conspiracy for helping run a contest that charged affluent women in China $40,000 to $80,000 each to obtain visas to come to Southern California to give birth. The company coached more than 500 women to pass their consular interviews abroad and conceal their pregnancies from U.S. Customs and Border Protection once they arrived at the airport, according to ICE and federal court records.

Here’s hoping you feel safer this morning.


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