LOS ANGELES— Unlicensed maternity clinics that cater to women from Asia have sprung up around the United States, especially in California. Local officials are cracking down on the maternity hotels, which offer the promise of U.S. citizenship to newborn babies.
In the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, an unlicensed maternity clinic was forced to close recently. The large home in a residential neighborhood had diapers, clothing and baby supplies sitting in the driveway. The house was one of many in California that advertises online for pregnant women in Asia who want their children born in the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, that makes the child a U.S. citizen.
It is called birth tourism, and while it is not the intent of the law, it's not illegal, says immigration policy expert Karthick Ramakrishnan of the University of California, Riverside.
“The U.S. could pass a law saying that they will not admit someone in the country if their intent is to have a child in the United States. Right now, there is no law that explicitly says that," said Ramakrishnan.
Local officials say these maternity hotels are unlicensed and illegal in residential neighborhoods. Women from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea pay from $10,000 to more than $20,000 for their maternity stay. Local authorities in Chino Hills, near Los Angeles, have been cracking down on one alleged maternity hotel in a hillside neighborhood.
Attorney Rosanna Mitchell heads a group of residents who complained to city officials.
“They saw a lot of luxury cars coming in and out of here. They also saw seven to eight pregnant women walking down this driveway," said Mitchell.
Local officials say the 17-room home housed up to 30 women, with inadequate sanitation or safety facilities.
Many California cities are ethnically diverse, with many immigrants from Asia and other parts of the world, and Chinese-American Lou Alfonso says the controversy in his city is causing racial divisions.
“Because there are honest and peace-loving residents of the American Chinese community in Chino Hills who are very much against these maternity hotels, and because of the emotion, there's a tendency to generalize," said Alfonso.
Wai-Min Liu of the Chinese American Association of Chino Hills wants the unlicensed clinics closed.
“We feel very bad about this kind of operation, and we sure hope the government does something about it," said Liu.
It is unclear how many maternity hotels are operating around the United States, but local activists count more than a dozen near Chino Hills alone, and others are thought to operate in different sections of Los Angeles. Some here hope that Congress will clarify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants U.S. citizenship to all born in the country, to prevent the birth tourism that local officials say is spreading.