Daily Mail, September 18, 2019
A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges of running a ‘birth tourism’ scheme in California that catered to wealthy Chinese clients, including government officials, who paid large sums of money so their children would be US citizens.
Dongyuan Li, 41, who was arrested in January, admitted in her plea agreement that between 2013 and March 2015, her company — called ‘You Win USA Vacation Services — assisted mainly Chinese foreign nationals who were pregnant to travel to the US and give birth.
The company website advertised that it had catered to more than 500 Chinese birth tourism customers who, according to officials, were housed in 20 apartments at The Carlyle at Colton Plaza, in Irvine, south of Los Angeles.
Authorities say Li charged between $40,000 and $80,000 for her services and over two years amassed $3million in wire transfers from China.
According to a series of indictments filed earlier this year against Li and 19 other defendants in relation to the ‘birth tourism’ scheme, customers were coached on how to bypass US immigration control and conceal their pregnancies.
Jing Dong, 42, and Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, who allegedly operated ‘USA Happy Baby,’ were also arrested in January.
Li, Dong and Liu initially pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy, visa fraud and money laundering.
While it isn’t illegal to visit the US while pregnant, authorities said the businesses — which were raided by federal agents in 2015 — touted the benefits of having US citizen babies, who could get free public education.
The practice is legal as long as the mother does not lie on the visa application and can pay for medical care.
Li admitted that her customers were advised to book two flights — the first from China to Hawaii, where the women were told to list the Trump International Hotel in Honolulu as their destination. They were then told to take a flight to Los Angeles.
With money from her services, Li was able to pay in full for a $2.1million home in Irvine, California, and a new Mercedes-Ben.
As part of her plea deal, Li agreed to forfeit more than $850,000, a residence worth more than $500,000 and several Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
She faces up to 15 years in prison at her sentencing on December 16.
US authorities said the businesses posed a national security risk since their customers, some who worked for the Chinese government, secured American citizenship for children who can move back to the US and once they’re 21 and then sponsor their parents for green cards.
‘I see this as a grave national security concern and vulnerability,’ Mark Zito, the assistant special agent-in-charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations, said in January.
‘Are some of them doing it for security because the United States is more stable? Absolutely. But will those governments take advantage of this? Yes, they will.’
Birth tourism businesses have long operated in California and other states and cater to couples from China, Russia, Nigeria and elsewhere.
In the past, operators sometimes ran into trouble with local code enforcement officials when neighbors in residential areas complained about crowding or excess trash, but they didn’t face federal scrutiny.
In 2015, federal agents in California raided roughly three dozen sites connected with the three businesses.
More than 20 people were designated as material witnesses but some later fled to China and were charged with violating federal court orders, and a lawyer who helped them leave the country was convicted of obstruction of justice.
In January, a federal grand jury indicted four people who allegedly ran the birth tourism businesses until the 2015 raids, including Wen Rui Deng, 65, who is believed to be in China and accused of operating ‘Star Baby Care.’
That business dated to at least 2010 but advertised having brought 8,000 women to the US — half of them from China — and claimed to have been running since 1999, prosecutors said.
Each business brought hundreds of customers to give birth in the US and some didn’t pay all of the medical costs tied to their care, prosecutors said.
One couple paid the indigent rate for their hospital bills — a total of $4,080 — even though they had more than $225,000 in a US bank account they had used to shop at luxury stores including Louis Vuitton, according to court papers.
The Trump administration has lashed out at the practice and floated the idea of revoking birthright citizenship.