According to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone born on U.S. soil has the right to U.S. citizenship.
Originally ratified in 1868 to guarantee citizenship rights to freed black slaves, the amendment has been controversial more recently in the American public political debate because of poor, illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America coming to the U.S. and giving birth. An estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the children of undocumented immigrants, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.
There is another group of people arriving in the United States to have children. But this group comes legally, often in first-class airline seats: mainland China’s upper class.
A whole host of middlemen have sprung up in China to facilitate the booming trade, foremost of whom is Robert Zhou, a Taiwanese businessman.
For roughly $15,000, his company can arrange the hospital in Los Angeles, the doctor, the house and car rental, and any number of other extras for wealthy Chinese parents-to-be.
“What I’m trying to do is to help Chinese mothers to realize their American dream, at a fair and reasonable price. We’re not encouraging pregnant women to go and get a U.S. visa. We say that if you already have a U.S. visa, and you’re pregnant, you can take the opportunity to give birth in the U.S. So yes, it is a gray area in U.S. law,” Zhou says.
Anti-immigration activists in the U.S. say the 14th Amendment was never meant to be applied this way. The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have no specific regulations regarding pregnant foreign visitors like Chen.
Zhou insists his clients obtain U.S. visas themselves before they even approach him. He says they are paying for everything themselves, and not being a burden on U.S. taxpayers.
Zhou has helped as many as 600 mothers give birth in the U.S. in the past five years. Some are doing so to skirt China’s strict one-child law, which doesn’t apply if a child is born to Chinese parents outside China.
When they’ve gotten a taste of American life, Zhou says some people do want to emigrate. But the majority of parents, like Chen, don’t want to move to America themselves at all.