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Busting the baby centers
In March the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) busted 27 “baby care centers” in southern California as part of a crackdown on the industry that helps pregnant Chinese women on fraudulent visas give birth to American babies. This might have been the largest-ever raid on maternity tourism firms and ICE officers questioned center operators and collected evidence of visa and tax fraud, money laundering and other crimes.
Over recent years more and more pregnant Chinese mainlanders have been traveling to the US. If a baby is born in the US, no matter where the parents come from, that child is automatically entitled to US citizenship.
To cope with the constantly booming business, these baby care centers in Chinese communities have become a very professional industry. At the centers mothers-to-be are offered a variety of services from transportation, shopping to entertainment alongside professional prenatal care. Most of these Chinese women are on temporary visas and will have to leave America after their babies are born.
In an increasingly competitive market some of the centers have expanded the services they offer from traditional maternity services to helping women apply for political asylum on the grounds of China’s one-child policy. If a woman is granted asylum in this way she and her family can be given permanent residency.
Attracted by this now a large number of pregnant Chinese women are traveling to the US and then seeking asylum with the help of lawyers. All the baby care centers advertising promise to help clients obtain permanent residency this way.
According to insiders at baby care centers, 95 percent of the applications for asylum that cite the one-child policy will be approved. The centers charge between $4,000 and $6,000 for the legal work and this is above the usual maternity service fees.
Apart from fraudulent asylum claims that use China’s one-child policy as a reason, other Chinese immigration cases involve allegations of persecution occur from time to time. Some lawyers have coached asylum seekers on how to lie on their applications and in immigration proceedings. Word of just one successful case will spread quickly in the community and a lawyer could become a star overnight.
In December 2012 in a major clampdown, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents raided 10 law firms suspected of falsifying asylum cases in New York.
Eventually 26 people, lawyers, paralegals, interpreters and even a church employee, were prosecuted in a New York federal court, accused of manufacturing false asylum claims for Chinese citizens who had never actually suffered political persecution.
One of these defendants, Feng Ling Liu, hired ghost writers to create stories of persecution so that his clients could successfully pass the first round of interviews with immigration officers. People who fail this first round but want to continue with their bids for citizenship have to then go to court which is a difficult and involved process that can take two years or longer. According to the FBI most out of the 10 law firms raided had submitted false documents and evidence in court hearings.
The political asylum system is supposed to protect people who have been persecuted in their home countries, offering them a chance to enjoy democracy and freedom in the US.
Unfortunately loopholes in the asylum legal system are being seized upon by organizations and individuals, Chinese American lawyers, illegal immigration agencies and Falun Gong practitioners. Fraudulent asylum cases are not uncommon in the US.
Chinese mainland residents and legal advisers should be aware of the serious legal ramifications if they try to fraudulently apply for political asylum when they are no entitled to.