Venezuelans Giving Birth In S. Fla. To Obtain Citizenship For Their Children

Tal Abbady, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 12, 2007

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Worried that President Hugo Chavez may claim guardianship rights over children, dozens of Venezuelan women have traveled to South Florida in recent months to give birth, local doctors say.

The women generally arrive on tourist visas when they are seven months pregnant and return home six weeks after delivery.

Most say they think their children’s U.S. citizenship will exempt them from future Venezuelan government measures. Others say they want their children to enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship should the family eventually move here.

Roberto Infante, director of research at the Florida Institute for Reproductive Sciences and Technologies in Weston, has coordinated care for about 30 Venezuelan expectant mothers since December.

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According to opposition groups, Venezuela is considering a law that would require parents to obtain government permission to take their children out of the country, among other measures. Government officials deny that and accuse the opposition of trying to scare the public.

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“These women find a lot of comfort in being able to have their child in this country. They receive the best care and their child is guaranteed to be a U.S. citizen,” said Infante, who heads the Venezuelan American Medical Association. He charges $500 to $1,000 for his services.

Statistics tracking women who travel to the U.S. to give birth are not available, experts say.

But immigration officials and advocates of stricter immigration laws say so-called “birth tours” are common. Thousands of middle-class South Korean women travel each year to the United States to give birth to U.S. citizens who can avoid their country’s military draft. U.S. clinics along the Mexican border offer services to border-crossing, pregnant Mexican women that include delivery and the processing of birth certificates, passports and other documents for a set fee, according to information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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“The only reason we’re here is because of Chavez,” said Avelino Pita, 29, Pita’s husband and a restaurant owner in Caracas. “We were afraid the government was going to come to us and say, ‘Your son is Venezuelan. Your son stays here.’”

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Venezuelan attorney and activist Maylin Silva of Miami knows several women who have traveled to South Florida to give birth, but questions whether they will gain any real protections for their children. She said the children, by virtue of their parents’ nationality, would still be Venezuelan and would not be exempt from any government laws.

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