Federal authorities have indicted 19 people allegedly involved in so-called birth tourism businesses that brought hundreds of pregnant women into the U.S. to give birth. The schemes operated across Southern California and raked in millions of dollars by charging clients — most of them from China — tens of thousands of dollars for coaching on how to get into the U.S.
The cases represent the first time that federal criminal charges were filed against operators and customers of so-called birth tourism businesses, according to an announcement from the U.S. Attorney's Office. The operations are also reportedly linked to "widespread immigration fraud" and international money laundering.
How did this work?
Under the scheme, foreign nationals applied for U.S. visitor visas to then lied about the length and purpose of their visits. Their goal was to stay in the U.S. for at least three months so they could give birth and their babies would attain birthright citizenship.
Clients allegedly were coached to tell the U.S. consulate in China that they would be staying in the U.S. for just two weeks. They also reportedly wore loose clothing to conceal their pregnancies while passing through U.S. Customs. Additionally, the clients were told to fly from China to Hawaii because it supposedly has easier customs screening procedures.
Many of the customers also "failed to pay all of the medical costs associated with their hospital births, and the debts were referred to collection," the announcement said.
"These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws – laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
On Wednesday, a federal grand jury charged alleged operators of birth tourism businesses in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties in California.
Dongyuan Li, 41, of Irvine; Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Jing Dong, 42, of Fontana were all charged with conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering and identity theft. Liu is also charged with filing three false tax returns, the announcement states.
How did they get clients?
To lure customers, operators told them that they'd have the chance for a free education, a better political climate, less pollution, and shot at U.S. government jobs, among other perks.
Wen Rui Deng, 65, a former Irvine resident now believed to be in China, was also indicted this week. He is believed to have run Star Baby Care, in Los Angeles County, which was one of the largest birth tourism scheme in the U.S. The business boasted online that it helped 8,000 pregnant women, including about 4,000 from China, give birth in the U.S. since it was started in 1999. The business reportedly worked with "30 apartments in Rowland Heights and 10 properties in Irvine, including some houses."
Additionally, there are 16 fugitive defendants who may have fled the country.