A Suicidal Nanny, an Underground Industry and 3 Babies Stabbed (New York City)

Gripping and horrific reporting of some low-cost birth hotels in Queen’s. Haven’t heard of comparable horror stories from Richmond birth hotels:

Dark circles formed like warning signs beneath Yu Fen Wang’s eyes as she worked 12-hour graveyard shifts in a Queens maternity center that operated on the margins of legality. Her family said she had grown gaunt, could not sleep and told her husband she no longer wanted to live.

Her employers, however, said they needed her to work. And her family needed the money. She earned less than $100 a day, they said, working in a private house that had been converted into a combined nursery and hotel for newborn babies and their mothers.

An open secret in the Flushing community, the center was part of an underground industry catering to a demanding clientele: local mothers resting after childbirth and Chinese visitors coming to have their babies in the United States, a practice known as “birth tourism.”

On Sept. 21, at 3:40 a.m., these dangers collided to near-fatal effect when, the police say, Mrs. Wang stabbed three babies sleeping in bassinets on the first floor — all girls — and two adults. She then turned the knife on her own neck and wrists.

The victims all survived. But the horrific act turned a spotlight on a pocket of immigrant New York, where a loose network of businesses tend to mothers and infants in the crucial, fragile month after childbirth but operate without any government oversight. The center, Mei Xin Care, is one of dozens in the area that vary widely in amenities and quality, leaving workers with few avenues for complaint, and families with little to guide them other than word of mouth, internet advertisements and blind trust.

“There are victims at all sides of the spectrum,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who represents Queens.

Centers like this one — which was alternately known as Mei Bao, or “beautiful baby” in Chinese — provide two services. The first is for newly-arrived immigrant mothers practicing a Chinese tradition some 1,000 years old in which they recuperate for a month after childbirth while other women, often called “aunties,” care for their infants. Authorities said the centers also provide assistance to women from China who wish to give birth in the United States in order to obtain instant citizenship for their children, which is legal under immigration law.

There are some 40 such maternity centers — in private homes and apartments — advertising their services online in the New York and New Jersey area, and nearly 20 in the Flushing neighborhood.

At Mei Xin Care, employees were paid off the books, Mrs. Wang’s family said. One of its nannies, Darong Wang, 63, got the job despite being arrested in May for promoting prostitution at a massage parlor in downtown Flushing. She was slashed in the attack, requiring 20 stitches on her face; a father of one of the children was stabbed in the leg and wrist.

The crime took place in a three-floor brick apartment house with white metal lattice balconies on the outskirts of Flushing. Its only advertisement existed on the internet, on a Craigslist of sorts for the local Chinese immigrant community.

Mei Xin Care appears to be a combination of the names of two owners: Meiying Gao and Xuexin Lin. Local employment agencies said the owners had been in the business for about a decade but opened their latest location in 2016, when city records show they bought the building for $1.5 million. Reached by phone, the owners declined to comment.

One neighbor said in an interview that she saw a steady stream of clients arriving, sometimes in fancy cars.

Some of them would have been following the custom of a monthlong rest after childbirth. The period culminates in a “red egg celebration” to mark the baby’s survival of its fragile first weeks, said Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology in the Asian American Studies program at Hunter College.

The centers are an alternative to obtaining visas so family members can fly to the United States, or returning to China, where health care is often less sophisticated. For several thousand dollars, new mothers have access to 24-hour nannies and cooks.

Michael Cheng and his Shanghai-born wife, who live in Flushing, considered using the center for her recuperation period. They toured the facility twice in the spring and were quoted a fee of $4,800 — in cash.

Mr. Cheng said babies were sleeping on the first floor, while their mothers slept in small bedrooms on the second and third floors.

He remembered seeing five to six workers, whom he estimated to be in their 40s and 50s. “They were working 24 hours in shifts,” he said. “I can imagine that it was a very high-stress job.”

Mr. Cheng said his wife, who did not want to give her name, spoke with some of the residents on the upper floors, one from China and another who was a New Yorker. “Before we walked out, I was like, ‘Are you sure you like this place?’ to my wife,” Mr. Cheng said in an interview. “To me, it felt stuffy in there.”

He was skeptical and asked to see a license. The owners sent a copy of a generic business operation certificate and another for maternity nutrition.

“In hindsight,” he said, “if there was more talk about these places, and people knew if you go to one of these centers that they had to hang their licenses right out in front, some kind of regulations around that, maybe it would help.”

Ultimately, the couple felt uneasy about Mei Xin Care and opted to spend the month at Mr. Cheng’s parents’ home on Long Island after their daughter was born. They got their $800 deposit back when another mother quickly filled the spot.

After the stabbings occurred, Flushing was in an uproar. At temples, in food courts and on the streets beneath bright signs in Chinese, residents worried that the incident would stir up anti-immigrant attitudes toward their community.

Others decried the center’s second purpose, easing the path for birth tourism. “They should not come through loopholes,” said Catherine Chan, 50, a bar owner in Queens who used to work on Wall Street. She came to the United States from China when she was 6, after a long process involving family sponsorship, she said. “There is no shortcut.”

Birth tourism is a well-known phenomenon. In recent years, it has drawn mostly well-off mothers from China, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and Nigeria to the United States for birthright citizenship, which President Trump has vowed to eliminate.

It can be legal, as long as pregnant foreigners applying for visas state their intention to give birth when they are in the United States and prove that they can cover the cost. If they conceal their real purpose for traveling they could be subject to visa fraud.

Once United States citizens turn 21, they are eligible to sponsor a parent for a green card, giving their parents the option of eventually settling there. Parents do not always use that opportunity, and immigration officials could deny a green card, claiming the parents had willingly defrauded the American government.

Many are more concerned about securing the future of their children who, as American citizens, have the option of schooling in the United States or in competitive private Chinese schools that have lower entry standards for foreign students. They can travel to other countries without having to apply for a visa. It is seen as a status symbol in China.

For Chinese birth tourists, Los Angeles is the marquee destination. Centers compete with each other by advertising stays at plush hotels, shopping extravaganzas in nearby malls, and state-of-the-art hospitals. Fees can range from $50,000 to $80,000.

In 2015, immigration enforcement authorities raided the Los Angeles centers, saying owners had avoided paying taxes.

Still, the raids did not deter business owners who saw an opportunity. As Chinese internet services like Weibo and WeChat expanded, so did advertisements for birth tourism services in New York.

In the New York metropolitan area, more upscale maternity centers tend to exist in New Jersey and Long Island suburbs. The ones in Flushing appear to be smaller, and less expensive, options, where mothers stay in rooms that often have been subdivided.

Annie Gao, the owner of one upscale birth center in Center Moriches, on Long Island, expressed disdain for the cramped and somewhat secretive operations of the Flushing centers.

Ms. Gao, who opened her center in Flushing in 2004, said that several years ago she tried to convince other owners to join an association that could self-regulate and keep out cut-rate, potentially unsafe, centers. Ms. Gao thought that some centers skimped on food quality and cleaning services, noting that ones she had seen looked “dirty.”

An advertisement for Mei Xin Care, also known as Mei Bao, claims the center has been legally registered for more than 10 years and provides five meals a day to new mothers.Credit

But those owners disagreed, she said.

These centers elude city and state licensing categories and zoning codes. They do not qualify as day care centers because mothers are on-site; they do not need a medical license because owners offer Chinese nutritional practices.

“There isn’t a real category for these type of activities, and they were able to leverage it and apply for a general business license and pretend that was O.K. for their clients,” Mr. Kim, the assemblyman, said.

Although neighbors of Mei Xin Care filed complaints that it was operating as a hotel, city buildings inspectors were denied access three times, which automatically closes the complaint. Neighbors can file an affidavit to warrant a full inspection, but city records show that did not happen.

The state Office of Child and Family Services, the city’s administration for Children’s Services, the state Department of Health and the city Department of Health all said such centers did not fall under their purview.

The police shut down Mei Xin Care after the stabbing, but less than three weeks later, the center seemed to have reopened. Women could be seen through the windows, and a pile of diapers sat outside…

How Canada became an international surrogacy destination [another form of birth tourism]

Just as I am working on my article on birth tourism, another example of “reproductive tourism” emerges.

The same issues larger apply in terms of abuse of birthright citizenship.

In addition, given that Canadian surrogate mothers use Canadian healthcare, there is an effective subsidy to foreign parents engaging a Canadian surrogate. Not right (and appears Canada is one of the few countries that allows intended parents living outside the country.

Hard to understand the rationale for continuing this other form of birth tourism:

Here’s an arresting statistic: Almost half of the babies born to Canadian surrogates in the province of British Columbia in 2016 and 2017 were for intended parents who lived outside the country. That’s 45 of the 102 babies born to surrogates there – 44 per cent.

What’s the national tally on such outbound babies? We don’t know. Rather, we aren’t told. The number could presumably be calculated, since individual physicians carry out the procedures and bill for them, and provinces issue birth certificates. But the information is not publicly available. Then again, we should hardly be surprised: In Canada, we don’t even know the total number of babies born to surrogates for any parent, Canadian or otherwise. I and others have been asking around for some time now.

Those B.C. numbers come to us thanks to the hard work of Pamela White, at the Kent Law School in Britain, who had to put in an access to information request with the B.C. government. She tried the province of Ontario, too, but they said they don’t collect data on residency. In the United States, such information is collected by law and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prof. White, a former Statistics Canada director and data analyst, argues that Canadians deserve that level of transparency, too. She is absolutely right. Without real data, available for scrutiny, how can we make informed public policy decisions? We can’t.

Anecdotal reports and incomplete data suggest that the number of intended parents (IPs) from outside Canada has been growing in recent years. At the annual meeting of the Canadian Fertility & Andrology Society (CFAS) last month, Karen Busby, a professor in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba, who co-authored a forthcoming paper on the topic with Prof. White, discussed why Canada is becoming an international surrogacy magnet and whether it is desirable.

The backdrop, Prof. Busby says, is that worldwide demand is huge. Many people want to be parents and can’t do so without surrogacy, but they live in countries where surrogacy is either prohibited entirely, or prohibited for them. China, Japan and many European and predominantly Muslim countries have restrictions, she says. People in such places who decide to pursue surrogacy must look beyond their own borders.

Coupled with this growing demand is shrinking supply. In the last few years, India, Nepal, Thailand and Mexico – former international surrogacy hotspots – have closed their doors to non-residents.

So why Canada? For one thing, Prof. Busby says, Canada is one of the few jurisdictions left in the world that both allows surrogacy and allows foreign participation in it. Countries such as Britain, South Africa and Israel, she says, permit surrogacy, but not for foreigners. The only other places that allow foreigners to access surrogacy within their borders, apart from a couple of completely unregulated jurisdictions, are Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and a few U.S. states.

For a number of reasons, Canada stacks up well against these others. Russia and Ukraine, for instance, only allow married heterosexual couples to participate. Canada, by contrast, does not allow discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation, Prof. Busby says.

Canada is also fairly efficient about granting legal parental rights. It varies by province, but generally speaking, IPs can be declared legal parents without a lot of hassle in just a few days, and they can be issued a birth certificate within weeks. Also, any child born in Canada has the right to citizenship, so a passport can be issued, and in short order, the families can head home and start their new lives.

Financially, Canada also compares well. Women in Canada enjoy high quality, publicly funded health care throughout the pregnancy, during the delivery and after the birth. This is as true for a woman carrying a baby for someone from France or China as it is for a woman carrying a baby for herself. Our neonatal care is also top-notch – and also publicly funded. Another perk, Prof. Busby says, is that if a Canadian surrogate has a job, then she may also qualify for employment insurance benefits following birth – to a maximum of $6,500.

Here’s another interesting twist. In Canada, it’s illegal – a criminal offence, according to the Assisted Human Reproduction Act – to pay a woman to carry a baby for you, or to pay someone else to arrange for her to do so. Since the law first passed in 2004, this prohibition has caused enormous hand-wringing for Canadian would-be parents looking to form their families with the help of a surrogate. They rightly fear that they could be prosecuted for paying a surrogate, and the penalty is steep: up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. The prohibition has reportedly driven some Canadian families to leave the country to seek surrogates elsewhere.

Ironically, this prohibition, which was designed to deter commercial surrogacy, may actually be stimulating it – and may favour foreign IPs over domestic ones. Domestic IPs may be reluctant to offer money or will only offer it under the table, but because the law is not applied to acts committed outside the country, Prof. Busby says, foreign IPs can offer money openly, so long as it changes hands somewhere else. It’s conceivable that, given the choice between being paid and not being paid, Canadian surrogates – who are legally allowed to accept the money – may opt to be paid. So foreign IPs may actually be more attractive to Canadian surrogates than domestic IPs. (There’s no data on that, of course, since there’s no data.)

It is true that foreign IPs coming to Canada will still be subject to our other prohibitions, such as paying for local egg or sperm donations or performing sex selection. But, as Prof. Busby points out, most Canadians live near the U.S. border and have easy access to the services offered there. This ability to enjoy the best of both systems only adds to Canada’s appeal.

All of these factors help to explain why Canada has become a go-to place for surrogacy. I’ll add one more that Prof. Busby did not explicitly mention: There are Canadian doctors, lawyers and agencies who actively recruit IPs from around the world. If foreign parents weren’t already aware of Canada’s considerable merits, representatives of the industry are more than happy to point them out. In fact, the newly minted president of the CFAS himself, alongside the CEO of the country’s top surrogacy agency, was recently in London, promoting Canada as a premier surrogacy destination.

And they are right: For all of the above reasons, Canada is a great place to do surrogacy. Loads of people already want to come here and we can only expect that number will grow.

Not everything about this picture is rosy, however. A big question is whether Canadians need to think about recovering medical costs. Pregnancy care, even for an uneventful pregnancy, costs money. So does birth. The average uncomplicated birth in Canada rings in at between $3,000 and $6,000, depending on whether it’s a vaginal or surgical delivery. Complications can increase that figure considerably. Neonatal care can also be pricey. For instance, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, care for a baby born at 29 weeks weighing less than kilogram costs an average of $91,946. One baby.

“I am pretty sure that if you asked the average Canadian whether or not the Canadian health-care system should pay for any of the health-care costs incurred in order to produce a child for a non-resident IP, the answer would be no,” Prof. Busby told the CFAS meeting. “In fact, I think it would be an emphatic no.” I suspect she’s right.

As far as Prof. Busby is aware, no province has put in place laws or policies to recover the cost of surrogate pregnancy care from foreign IPs. (A few Ontario hospitals have started charging for infant care, if the infants are for out-of-province parents.) Prof. Busby says governments could consider measures such as asking IPs for money up front or not issuing a birth certificate or passport until the bill is settled.

That’s a lot of work. It would involve co-ordination across departments and even, in some scenarios, levels of government. Another option, she says, would be to follow the lead of other countries and create residency restrictions, stipulating that only people who live in Canada can work with a surrogate here. That option would, in one fell swoop, alleviate the shortage of surrogates available to work with Canadians and eliminate the cost-recovery conundrum.

That would be a tidy solution, and, all things considered, maybe the most workable one. The cost-recovery issue is challenging. Access to surrogates by Canadians is challenging, too. There are other problems. Our country is struggling under a 14-year-old law that still hasn’t rolled out the meat of its regulatory details. We are woefully lacking in transparency about surrogacy – and assisted reproduction in general. Finally, although preliminary findings are reassuring, we have not yet done nearly enough research to establish that Canadian women who act as surrogates are not exploited.

I am not hopeful, given Canada’s track record in this sphere, that we will crack these tough problems any time soon, or ever. But let’s imagine we did – no cost to the Canadian public, adequate numbers of surrogates to work with Canadian families, effective laws for and public scrutiny of the process and confidence that women were treated fairly. Then, it seems to me, Canada would be an excellent place for international surrogacy. Surely the ideal is for surrogates and babies to have quality medical care, for IPs to be free from discrimination, for parentage issues to be resolved quickly.

If we did somehow get our house in order, I’d be the first to ask: If you believe that surrogacy is a legitimate way of achieving parenthood, what would be the argument against welcoming it here?

Source: How Canada became an international surrogacy destination: Alison Motluck

Yet another petition on birth tourism

Likely a political response to the tensions in Richmond, where over 20 percent of live births are to non-resident mothers and positioning given the Conservative party resolution calling to limit birthright citizenship to offspring of Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
Working on an article with more accurate and. spoiler alert, higher numbers which should be out later this month or early November:

Toronto Sun Editorial: Birth tourism in Canada needs to be addressed

Doing some further work, based upon more accurate (and higher) numbers than those collected by StatCan and the vital statistics agencies, that will form the basis of an upcoming article in the next month or so.

As the previous government learned during its efforts to qualify birthright citizenship (What the previous government learned about birth tourism), not as simple to address as it may appear:

Canadians on social media recently clued in to a curious blog from Nigeria that encourages the practice of birth tourism.

“Top Tips for Having Your Baby in Canada from Nigeria” is the name of an actual blog post on the popular Nigerian travel site, Naija Nomads, that encourages people to give birth while on a trip to Canada to secure Canadian citizenship for their child.

The author discusses her own experiences giving birth in Canada and why she did it. “Canada offers more benefits for its citizens (immigration policies are better, free health care + college education is cheaper)” and that “Canada is cheaper to have your baby.”

The author offers detailed advice ranging from visa applications to where in the country to plan the birth. “Ontario is where most people have their babies but who knows, Quebec or Nova Scotia might be better for you.”

The blog posted a series of tweets further discussing the issue, but appears to have deleted them after Sun columnist Anthony Furey drew attention to them.

But this incident brings renewed focus on an issue that has become increasingly concerning in Canada.

A Postmedia report from June revealed that the number of babies born at Richmond Hospital in British Columbia now account for about 20% of all deliveries.

“We are reaching a tipping point,” said Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, who represents the riding of Steveston – Richmond East. “Nurses have told me that this is displacing folks from giving birth in Richmond.”

Peschisolido created an e-petition to back his efforts to get his government’s cabinet to clamp down on the issue.

“In response to birth tourism, Australia and New Zealand changed their laws, granting citizenship to babies only when at least one parent is a citizen or a legal resident,” Postmedia reported.

Canada ought to consider something similar. It’s difficult to blame people like the Nigerian blogger for taking advantage of something that is allowed by law.

The Conservatives recently voted in favour of a policy resolution put forth at their annual convention to end birth tourism.

It was a tight vote and a controversial one. But the integrity of our immigration system matters.

If the issue is also straining our resources, as reports suggest, then that too must be addressed.

Source: EDITORIAL: Birth tourism in Canada needs to be addressed

Birthplace doesn’t necessarily guarantee citizenship, feds argue at Supreme Court

Have been engaging on Twitter on this case and striking that this press report seemed to miss the focus of the government’s brief: whether the children of spies not working out of a diplomatic mission should be entitled or not to birthright citizenship.

As the factum notes:

98. The Registrar’s interpretation is also consistent with the interpretive principle of avoiding absurdity. The result of the majority’s interpretation is that the children of foreign intelligence agents posted to an embassy and benefiting from diplomatic privileges and immunities (e.g. by posing as “economic development officers”) are caught by s. 3(2)(a), while the children of undercover intelligence agents engaged in surreptitious espionage are not. Justice Bell recognized this absurdity on judicial review,147 but the majority dismissed it on appeal as a policy choice – despite the presumption against absurdity being a well-established principle of statutory interpretation.148

99. Indeed, the policy preference that the majority cited is itself somewhat illogical and results in anomalous outcomes. Here, Vavilova and Bezrukov’s purpose for being in Canada was the same as the other categories of persons in s. 3(2)(a) of the Act, namely, to serve their home government, in their case through their undercover work as long term Illegals for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. Like the other persons listed in s. 3(2)(a), their presence and employment in Canada was intended to advance their state’s interests.

100. As the majority indicates, its preferred interpretive policy choice for s. 3(2)(a) of the Act tries to avoid visiting “the sins of the parents” upon Vavilov, whose parents were undercover Russian spies, but has no difficulty in visiting those same “sins” on the children of accredited diplomats or foreign spies merely because they operate out of an embassy. In any event, this is not a case about the “sins” of Vavilov’s parents, but rather their employment as Russian spies and their duty and service to Russia at the time of his birth in Canada. When considered in this way, the provision provides for the same outcome for both of these categories of persons in Canada in the service of a foreign government. In both cases, the children’s citizenship status is a result of their parents’ chosen employment. By contrast, the majority’s interpretation results in a more favourable outcome for the children of those whose employment is surreptitious and undertaken by fraudulent means.

The CP artilce:

International law does not require Canada to give citizenship to babies born on its soil, the federal government is telling the Supreme Court — an argument that could inadvertently bolster a recent Conservative party resolution aimed at stemming so-called birth tourism.

Canada is one of fewer than three dozen countries that follow the practice of citizenship based on birthplace and some — including Australia and Britain — have modified or ended automatic birthright in recent years, the government says in a case that will determine whether the Toronto-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens.

“Indeed, no European countries, for example, grant an unqualified automatic citizenship by birth and they have no obligation to do so,” the federal submission says.

“Only 34 countries grant the automatic acquisition of citizenship through birthplace regardless of parents’ nationality or status. This practice is not consistent and uniform enough to ground a rule of customary international law.”

Federal lawyers are playing down the concept of automatic citizenship in laying out the reasons the government believes Alexander and Timothy Vavilov — the offspring of Russian intelligence agents — should not be recognized as Canadian citizens, even though they were born in Ontario.

The federal Liberals adopted a decidedly different tone recently after the Conservatives passed a policy resolution calling on the government to enact legislation to end birthright citizenship “unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says one of the goals is to end the practice of women coming to Canada simply to give birth to a child that will automatically attain Canadian citizenship.

Refugee and human rights advocates have objected, saying there is no evidence of a birth tourism problem to solve and that the Conservative policy would open the door to stateless children being born in Canada.

Birthright isn’t set in stone

Following passage of the resolution, Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said it’s a “shame to see the Conservatives going back down the path established by the Harper government, which seeks to strip away the citizenship of people who have only ever known Canada as a home.”

Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, called the Conservative policy “a deeply wrong and disturbing idea.”

However, the federal submission to the Supreme Court strongly suggests the legal notion of automatic birthright is not carved in stone.

It notes even those states that have chosen to grant citizenship to children born on their soil are not prohibited from applying exceptions. “A review of citizenship entitlements in various countries reveals a multitude of variations and restrictions on automatic citizenship by birth.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in December in the case of the Vavilov brothers.

“In short, nothing in international law requires Canada to bestow citizenship on the basis of birth, much less to give citizenship to children born to parents in the service of a foreign government,” the written federal submission says.

Two years ago, the government took a rosier view of the concept in a formal response to a petition against birthright citizenship sponsored by Conservative MP Alice Wong.

John McCallum, immigration minister at the time, pointed out that the United States and Mexico, as well as a number of other countries in the Americas, such as Brazil and Argentina, provide citizenship based on birthplace.

“While there may be instances of expectant mothers who are foreign nationals who travel to Canada to give birth, requiring that a parent be a citizen or permanent resident in order for their child to acquire citizenship through birth in Canada would represent a significant change to how Canadian citizenship is acquired,” McCallum added.

Source: Birthplace doesn’t necessarily guarantee citizenship, feds argue at Supreme Court

Birthright citizenship, past and present

Nice profile of the history and 1898 case that resulted in birthright citizenship in the USA:

Who’s American?

The Trump administration’s troubling attack against immigrants and the children of immigrants continues. The State Department is denying or slowing passport applications from people with official U.S. birth certificates in states along the southern border; there have been repeated requests for additional documentation.

The government is alleging that some midwives and doctors provided fraudulent certificates over the decades, in a crackdown that’s swept up U.S. military veterans and those with certificates originating hundreds of miles from the border.

The move comes in the wake of the administration’s plans to make it harder for legal permanent residents with green cards to become citizens.

As the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, I’m outraged by this onslaught.

Birthright citizenship is vital to this country, making it possible for immigrant families to integrate and build a life here.

Eliminating or curtailing birthright citizenship wouldn’t fix our broken immigration system. These racist, xenophobic efforts to block paths to citizenship, whether through naturalization or at birth, could disenfranchise millions of people and generations of families.

The question of who has a right to be an American has been debated throughout our country’s history. Following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment in 1868 granted citizenship and equal rights to African American slaves who had been emancipated, to all those “born or naturalized” (the decision rectified the Dred Scott case, in which an enslaved man sued for his freedom, and lost).

Three decades later, Wong Kim Ark, the son of Chinese immigrants — born at 751 Sacramento St. in San Francisco — challenged the government’s refusal to recognize his citizenship.

In those days, under the harsh terms of the Chinese Exclusion Act, in order to travel outside of the United States, people of Chinese descent had to get a signed affidavit by white witnesses who could vouch for them and their citizenship.

To me, this bureaucratic obstruction is a parallel to the government’s additional requests for documentation from certain passport applicants.

Though Wong had the required paperwork, customs barred him from landing after his trip to China, by claiming that he was not a U.S. citizen.

He had made the round trip as a teenager, and had been allowed to return. With the support of the Chinese Six Companies — a Chinatown benevolent organization — the cook fought his case to the Supreme Court. In 1898, the court ruled in Wong’s favor, upholding that a child born in the U.S. automatically became a citizen.

To exclude Wong would have denied citizenship to those of English, Scottish, Irish or other European parentage who had always been considered and treated as citizens, Justice Horace Gray wrote in the majority opinion.

The fascinating 2014 documentary “14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark and Vanessa Lopez” — about the history of the 14th Amendment and the debate over birthright citizenship that rages on — includes interviews with Wong’s great-granddaughter, Sandra, a native of San Francisco.

“You can only imagine what he might have felt. If you talked to him, what would he have had to say about these experiences … having to do it over and over again,” Sandra Wong says in the documentary, contemplating his years of legal battles.

“My ancestor stood up and took on the challenge,” she says. “He was brave enough to do it. He was just a regular guy; it wasn’t like he wanted to be a hero. He wanted to fight for his right, and so you do what you have to do.”

How terrifying, how daunting it must have been, to fight the powers that be.

Although I don’t remember learning about Wong’s case among the landmark Supreme Court cases that we studied as schoolchildren, he deserves a place among those whose cases changed the fates of the generations who followed him.

My family owes thanks to him, and so do other children of immigrants, and everyone in this country who has benefited from contributions of those who hailed from elsewhere but embraced the United States as a home and a haven.

Yet Wong’s story doesn’t end with the court case, with him living happily ever after in the Bay Area. Eventually, he returned to China, quite possibly because of the rampant discrimination Chinese and Chinese Americans faced at that time. To his family, he spoke little about what had happened.

Yet his descendants later returned to America, in search of the same opportunity and freedom that has drawn immigrants from the beginning, and draws them still — and that we must strive to protect now.

Source: Birthright citizenship, past and present

What the previous government learned about birth tourism: My article in Policy Options

Excerpt are my concluding observations:

All this being said, the number of births by foreign mothers should be monitored. Statistics Canada numbers may not present an accurate picture. The number of births to foreign women in Richmond was reported as 394 in 2016-17, greater than the 313 that Statistics Canada reported for the whole country for 2016 (see table above). The Richmond numbers showed a steady increase from 2010, compared with the flatter trend in national numbers. Statistics Canada and IRCC need to work with provincial health ministries to ensure more reliable and consistent data.

More focused measures need to be considered to reduce or contain birth tourism. Options include making it more expensive by increasing the deposit that mothers pay hospitals; making suspected birth tourism grounds for visa refusal; and banning or regulating “birth tourism hotels,” places catering to pregnant foreign women and the consultants who help make the related arrangements.

These concrete actions would be a more proportionate response to the concerns raised by politicians and their constituents, and one that should be pursued by any government to improve the integrity of the citizenship program and address public concerns about fraud and abuse.

It is also important that the motivation behind discussion and debates on birthright citizenship not be labelled as racist, xenophobic or anti-immigrant. The fundamental issue remains fraud and misrepresentation, not discrimination.

What the previous government learned about birth tourism

Richmond Hospital reports more “non-resident, self-pay” births than the provincial government reports “non-resident” births, due to birth registration discrepancy

An older article from June 29 this year that was brought to my attention following the CBC article thanks to Ian Young of the SCMP that helps explain the discrepancy between the vital statistics data collected by Statistics Canada and local reports:

The frequency by which birth tourism may be occurring in B.C. and across Canada is significantly underreported, however health officials in this province are near to closing a glaring reporting loophole.

For instance, a discrepancy between how births by non-residents are reported at Richmond Hospital and how they are reported to the B.C. Ministry of Health could soon be rectified by provincial health officials, according to a ministry spokesperson.

“In the past, the Ministry of Health has tracked non-resident births by the address listed by parents on a baby’s birth registration, which could be local or international. Hospitals will typically go by whether or not patients are paying out-of-pocket for services to determine if someone is a resident of British Columbia,” stated spokesperson Laura Heinze, via email last week, to the Richmond News.

“We are currently in the process of aligning these reporting methods in order to get a more accurate picture of non-resident births across British Columbia,” Heinze added.

The existing reporting system can create significant discrepencies in tracking because many of the non-resident women who give birth at the Richmond Hospital list their address as the “birth house” where they may be living at the time.

In Richmond, Chinese nationals are known to stay at such houses, of which there are dozens identified by the provincial government and numerous advertised online both in China and Canada. As part of advertised month-to-month accommodation packages, birth house operators typically assist women with anything from tour guides, passport applications, doctor appointments, some pre- and post-natal care as well as hospital registration.

And so, should the birth house operator list the address of their home business at the hospital’s registration desk, the ministry would not count the baby as a non-resident. Only when the true address of the mother is registered, does the birth become a non-resident in the eyes of Vital Statistics B.C., noted Heinze.

Whereas Richmond Hospital reported 299 “self-pay” births from non-resident mothers in the 2015-16 fiscal year and 379 in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Statistics Canada only reported 99 births in B.C. in 2016 where the “Place of residence of [the] mother [is] outside Canada.”

Across Canada there were only 313 such births reported in 2016.

Statistics Canada told the News the Canadian Vital Statistics Birth Database collects demographic data annually from all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries on all live births in Canada.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is currently no government department or agency tasked with identifying and collecting data on births to non-resident mothers,” noted Statistics Canada spokesperson France Gagne.

From 2004 to 2010 the hospital helped birth, on average, 18 new Canadians per year from non-resident mothers. Numbers rose dramatically in 2014 and have risen steadily since, to the point where one in five births in Richmond are to foreign nationals.

While immigration lawyer Richard Kurland notes not all non-resident births are necessarily a result of birth tourism, Richmond may be at the epicentre of a burgeoning, and legal, birth tourism industry, whereby visiting foreign nationals seek to have “anchor babies,” who automatically become Canadian citizens under Canada’s citizenship laws.

Kurland said the key to good data is determining immigration/visitor status of the mom.

A national, public petition penned by Richmond resident Kerry Starchuk and sponsored by Steveston-Richmond East Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido aims to officially condemn birth tourism and study remedies to what Peschisolido describes as an abuse of the immigration system.

“Underground and unregulated ‘for profit’ businesses have developed both in Canada and ‘countries of origin’ to facilitate the practice of ‘Birth Tourism’; and the instances of ‘Birth Tourism’ are increasing in multiple cities across Canada,” the petition notes online.

Peschisolido disagrees with Conservative counterparts who have called for an end to birthright citizenship.

It’s fraudulent’: Former immigration official says action needed on ‘passport babies’

This CBC story, for which I did an interview, provides a good overview. Interesting to see just how much attention this story has and continues to receive (The National did a short report in which I was interviewed among others: The National Version):
A resolution passed during the Conservatives’ weekend policy convention calls for a future Tory government to end the practice of granting citizenship to babies born in Canada to non-resident parents. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

One of Canada’s former top immigration officials says so-called passport babies are a genuine problem in some Canadian locales and closing a loophole being exploited by pregnant foreign tourists is required to curtail the fraudulent practice.

But Andrew Griffith, a former director general at Citizenship and Immigration, said that a policy resolution passed by Conservatives this weekend to end the practice of giving citizenship to anyone born in the country may be akin to “using a hammer to squash a fly.”

Delegates at the Conservatives’ policy convention in Halifax endorsed a resolution to end the policy of birthright citizenship, with backers contending too many foreigners are travelling to Canada solely to give birth to secure status for their children.

Party members voted to call for a key section of Canada’s nationality law to be rewritten, endorsing a policy that would remove citizenship rights for children born in Canada to non-Canadian (or non-permanent resident) parents. The resolution is, however, non-binding on a future government.

“It’s basically using fraud to get citizenship for a child. People are coming on a visa under false pretences and just coming for the opportunity to provide citizenship for their kid. I can understand the motivation, but it’s really not what the policy was designed for and it’s a form of fraud and misrepresentation,” said Griffith in an interview with CBC News.

Proponents of the change, introduced by delegates from Newfoundland and Labrador, said such a move is necessary to crack down on foreigners travelling here for the sole purpose of securing perks and privileges for their children that come with being Canadian.

The change would upend a section of Canadian law that has been largely intact since the advent of a distinct Canadian citizenship decades ago.

Conflicting statistics

Canada — along with some other nations in the Americas, including the U.S. — is among a few developed countries that grant citizenship to any child born on its soil, regardless of the immigration status of their parents.

There are a few exceptions, notably the children of foreign diplomats are excluded, but generally the principle of jus soli, Latin for “right of the soil,” is applied.

The Conservative party’s resolution on birthright citizenship, as adopted by a majority of delegates on Saturday. (Conservative Party of Canada)

Some have suggested this is a solution looking for a problem as, according to Statistics Canada, just 313 babies were born in this country in 2016 to non-Canadian mothers, out of the 383,315 children born here that year.

But other data suggests the phenomenon is more common. Richmond Hospital in Richmond, B.C., a city near Vancouver, recorded 383 births to non-resident mothers in 2016-17 — representing 17.2 per cent of all births at the hospital.

Last year, the number rose to 469, or 22.2 per cent of all births — according to statistics provided by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to CBC News. The authority said the majority were to Chinese nationals.

“It’s arguably crowding out [hospital] space and facilities for residents of Canada. So, there’s a real issue there in Richmond, B.C. and other localities,” said Griffith.

But Griffith questioned whether the Conservative solution is workable, noting former Conservative citizenship minister Jason Kenney pursued a policy change while in governmentonly to find the numbers relatively small and the cost to provinces — which issue birth certificates — prohibitive.

“I don’t want to see [birth tourism] happen, but on the practical side as to what you do about it, abolishing birthright citizenship is using a hammer to squash a fly, because if the numbers are small … do you really want to inconvenience literally millions of Canadians to address a relatively small problem? Are there other ways one can address the issue?”

Griffith suggested hospitals could require higher deposits from non-residents to cover medical expenses, or there could be changes to how visas are granted to pregnant women to allow border officials to refuse entry if they suspect a person is travelling to Canada to give birth.

He also said the clear discrepancy between StatsCan data and information supplied by just one B.C. hospital suggests the government needs to “get its act together … to get a real handle on what exactly the numbers are.”

B.C. ‘birthing houses’

The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, has also documented a rise in the number of “birthing houses” in B.C. that host pregnant tourists looking to give birth to a Canadian baby.

That paper found dozens of such houses catering to pregnant foreign women who come to B.C. specifically to give birth to Canadian citizens.

“Can’t we do some regulation around these birthing houses? Or ban them?

“It is an abuse of the system, it’s an abuse of the policy but I think the measures need to be more focused and targeted rather than just wholesale change,” Griffith said.

Conservative B.C. MP Alice Wong, who has introduced a petition in Parliament on the issue, railed against the current policy, saying “passport babies take away the resources from our system.”

“It is dangerous to the mother and the child themselves. The Liberals support it. They do not support a fair citizenship system — we should fight for our own babies,” she told the convention Saturday.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer walks off stage after speaking to delegates at the Conservative national convention in Halifax Saturday. Scheer defended the party’s resolution on birthright citizenship Monday.(Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Another delegate said citizenship should only be inherited from a Canadian parent.

“Justin Trudeau would tell you that Canada has no nationality and I think everybody here would disagree with that. I think our nationality runs in our culture, our land, our blood from Juno Beach to Vimy Ridge. We have a culture, we have a nationality, there’s no reason to arbitrarily hand out citizenship to whoever happens to be on vacation here,” the delegate said.

Liberal officials were quick to pounce on the Conservative resolution, suggesting it could allow future governments to strip immigrants of their status.

Stripping citizenship?

Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, said it was “remarkable … they committed to give the government the power to strip people born in Canada of Canadian citizenship,” while linking to a series of tweets from a Somali refugee who was born stateless.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh went even further, “unequivocally” condemning the “division and hate being peddled by @AndrewScheer & the Conservative Party of Canada.”

Conservative Alberta MP Deepak Obhrai also spoke out against the change, suggesting a birthright ban could be open to abuse.

“Any person who is born in Canada by law is entitled to be a Canadian; we cannot choose who is going to be a Canadian and who is not going to be a Canadian,” he said at the convention. “This is a fundamental question of equality.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer defended the adoption of the resolution Monday.

“Conservatives recognize there are many Canadians who have been born in Canada by parents who have come here to stay and have contributed greatly to our country. I will not end the core policy that facilitates this. Unlike Justin Trudeau, I will safeguard it against abuse. A Conservative government will restore order, fairness, and compassion to Canada’s immigration system,” he said in a statement.

Howard Anglin, a top legal adviser and deputy chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, said the Liberals were whipping up fear among immigrants for political purposes.

“Here we see openly the beginning of a plan to mischaracterize another policy proposal, which would align us with virtually all our peer countries and allies (and which, of course, is not yet in an election platform) to stoke fear and alienation in ethnic communities,” he tweeted.

“No one will be stripped of citizenship, which is what [Butts’s] tweet said. It’s not retroactive. The proposal is that children of tourists, visitors, & others temporarily in the country or here illegally, will no longer automatically become citizens (just like in our peer countries).”

But Janet Dench, executive director of Canadian Council for Refugees, said Monday there is no meaningful data to suggest “birth tourism” is an actual problem and that if the measure came into force, “the vast majority of people affected would not at all be people who come for birth tourism reasons.”

Dench told The Canadian Press it would impact many women who give birth in Canada while they are waiting for permanent residency status, refugee claimants and others in limbo.

USA: The History Behind the Birthright Citizenship Battle

Important historical background:

The 14th Amendment, which declared that African-Americans were citizens, turned 150 earlier this month. But even as it was being commemorated as one of the signal achievements of post-Civil War Reconstruction, its bedrock provisions were colliding with the furious 21st-century debate over immigration.

In June, President Trump tweeted that undocumented immigrants should be sent home “immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases”— a direct contravention, legal scholars pointed out, of repeated Supreme Court rulings saying that the amendment’s guarantee of due process applies to all people in the United States, whatever their status.

This week, Michael Anton, a former national security official in the Trump administration, wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post saying that birthright citizenship — the longstanding principle that anyone born in the United States is a citizen — rests on a “deliberate misreading” of the 14th Amendment.

The article drew furious responses from scholars on social media and elsewhere. Among those weighing in was Martha S. Jones, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, and the author of the new book “Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America.”

We talked with Dr. Jones about how the idea of birthright citizenship was created, and how it connects with the current debate about who belongs in America. The interview has been edited and condensed.

The idea of “jus soli,” the right of the soil, goes back to English common law. Where does the American idea of birthright citizenship enter our political tradition?

In the United States, it is the African-American community that first begins to articulate the claim to birthright citizenship. They do it because they need it. Other folks do not.

By the 1830s, African-Americans in what we call the Colored Conventions Movement are crafting an argument that will help defend them against colonization schemes that involve trying to get them to leave the country, and also trying to resist state “black laws” that regulate where they can travel or gather in public, whether they can go to school, own guns and so on.

They look at the Constitution, which doesn’t really define who is a citizen, but does have this clause saying that the president must be a natural-born citizen. They ask, if the president is a natural-born citizen, why aren’t we? The Naturalization Act of 1790 says that only white people can be naturalized. But there is no color line in the Constitution.

We tend to think of the 1857 Dred Scott decision — which declared that back people could never be citizens — as definitively slamming the door shut, until the 14th Amendment came along. How much resistance was there to the decision?

Roger Taney [the chief justice, who wrote the decision] was very aware of the history of African-Americans’ efforts to claim citizenship. And after the decision, we see African-Americans continue to resist, to critique Taney’s decision from the podium, in newspapers. At the same time, lower courts are narrowing the scope of the decision, or refusing to defer to his reasoning.

And African-Americans are not retreating to their homes, or living quiet lives in response to Dred Scott. In Taney’s home state, Maryland, there are about 75,000 to 80,000 free blacks. When the state legislature proposes a new set of draconian black laws that would either remove them or re-enslave them, people organize, gather petitions, go to Annapolis, the capital, as part of an effort that ultimately defeats the legislation.

Black voting rights, which were guaranteed in the 15th Amendment, came under sustained attack for more than a century. Were there similar efforts to roll back birthright citizenship itself?

After 1868, African-Americans are citizens, if they are born in the United States. Now they have a tool that protects them from any effort to remove them from the country. With citizenship, there really is a there there, even as the struggle over civil rights continued, arguably into our own moment.