Source: New Jersey Spotlight
A company based in the Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center has been advertising online to Russian citizens, encouraging pregnant women to come to the Secaucus facility to give birth — a process that makes the baby automatically eligible for U.S. citizenship and connects the hospital to a growing and relatively unknown international phenomenon known as “birth tourism.”
Unlike the situation involving “anchor babies,” in which impoverished illegal immigrants move to the United States, where their children automatically become citizens, birth tourists generally intend to return home. Their child’s citizenship is meant as insurance in case family members wish to leave their native country at some point.
The MHMC service, called “AmeriMama,” promotes tour packages that offer to coordinate medical services at Meadowlands Hospital and help the family establish a comfortable life in the area for up to six months. A Russian-language website — which was active for more than a year and taken down after NJ Spotlight raised questions about its content — promised to secure citizenship papers, passports, and travel visas for the baby for fees ranging from $8,500 to $27,500, depending on the level of assistance involved; airfare, housing, and living expenses appear to cost extra.
While families generally return to their home countries after giving birth, their babies can eventually enjoy the benefits of American, or dual, citizenship — and parents have the right to apply for residency after several decades. Plus, the quality of medical care is often better in this country and more focused on the patient’s comfort, the site explains.
“Childbirth in New York is the best investment in the future of your family!” reads a translation of the website undertaken by NJ Spotlight — even though the hospital is in New Jersey.
Despite the promotion, AmeriMama does not appear to have been particularly successful; many beds have remained empty in the maternity ward and hospital in general in recent years. AmeriMama began in December 2014, according to the website, but sources connected to the hospital said it has been going on informally for even longer.
The hospital’s continual struggle appears to have encouraged them to look for a buyer. In July, a new corporation submitted a request to the state to take over Meadowlands Hospital’s operation. Details on the applicant have yet to be made public, but state officials said they are reviewing the proposal.
Experts said birth tourism is a growth industry, especially among the expanding middle and upper classes in countries that suffer from environmental, economic, or other instabilities — like China and Russia. It is not illegal for foreigners to give birth in the U.S., but it is illegal to lie to immigration officials about the reasons for a visit, something that experts said can happen in some birth-tourism cases.
The business depends on the “birthright clause” of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees babies born in this country to foreign parents automatically qualify for citizenship.