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New Regulation Targets "Birth Tourism"

When President Trump ran for office, his opposition to “anchor babies” and “birth tourists” were among many of his factually dubious stances. He worried that women native to countries outside the United States were traveling to the United States to give birth to a child that would be a citizen because he or she was born on U.S. soil. Then, that child would “anchor” the migration of the rest of the family because it is a citizen. One problem with that stance is that immigration law doesn’t allow for infants, children or adolescents to sponsor their parents. The child would have to turn 21, and the parents would have to leave the country for 10 years before they could return with legal status. If it’s a con, it’s a 31-year long con. 

On Thursday, The Trump Administration announced new rules effective January 24 aimed at ending birth tourism. According to The Associated Press, “The rules would make it more difficult for pregnant women to travel on tourist visas. In one draft of the regulations, they would have to clear an additional hurdle before obtaining the visas—convincing a consular officer that they have another legitimate reason to come to the U.S.”

The rule reads in part, "This rule establishes that travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis for the issuance of a B nonimmigrant visa. Consequently, a consular officer shall deny a B nonimmigrant visa to an alien who he or she has reason to believe intends to travel for this primary purpose."

The magnitude of the problem the change addresses is unclear. Studies generally found that the number of women having “anchor babies” in the U.S. was low, but any assessment was complicated by the number of undocumented immigrants who have children while in the United States as the natural extension of living their lives here. People who deal with pregnant mothers provide conflicting anecdotal evidence, though they agree that many women who come to the States to give birth do so not because of birthright citizenship but because hospitals and medical care is better in the U.S. than in their native countries.

There’s no denying that it happens. Birth tourism agencies in China and Russia reportedly charge up to $80,000 to fly mothers to the U.S. to give birth. Whether that number is large enough to merit changing regulations is one question. How to determine who is a birth tourist planning to have an anchor baby and how to implement the regulations are two more. Officially, these questions must be answered by the applicant receives a visa, but since we have seen examples of Customs and Border Patrol agents substituting their on-the-spot assessments for those arrived at by USCIS through the application process, it's easy to imagine agents deciding that a non-native tourist is too pregnant and denying her admission.  

In 2015, Amanda Taub took a counterintuitive approach to the “anchor baby” question. At, she argued that instead of trying to stop birth tourism, the United States should market it because it’s good business. “We act as if these babies detract from the US to the benefit of their parents, when in fact they do the opposite: benefit the US at real cost to their parents,” she wrote in 2015. Taub pointed out that the American-born babies will grow up as taxpayers, and the country will benefit from the tax revenues the child will generate over the course of his or her life. “Birth tourists” have enough money that they can afford the flight to the States, the hotel time until she gives into labor, and the hospital bill from giving birth. That right there represents more revenue to cities and states than the average convention-goer spends, and the children of parents that well off are likely to eventually enjoy some measure of wealth as well. That in turn would lead to more economic activity in the U.S. and greater tax revenues.

That argument is not likely to change the mind of those in the Trump Administration and those who supported the president when he ran for office in 2016. The proposed rule change—like his plans to appropriate more Pentagon money for border wall funding—sounds like something done to show his base that he made good on his campaign promises. For the moment, this is another situation to monitor. 

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