How big a problem is birthright tourism?

Birthright tourism is an abuse of the immigration system, whether done by parents who need or do not need a visa.  How big a problem is it? Is it big enough a problem to warrant a more concerted enforcement effort?

Birthright tourism is the practice of temporary visits for the sole purpose of giving birth so that the child gains certain citizenship rights per the law of the host country. It differs from births by persons who legally or illegally, migrant to a country intending long term residence.

Birthright tourism is perceived as largely enabled by businesses engaged in the traffic, but there may be many cases of do-it-yourself parents.

In January 2019 the Feds busted a multimillion-dollar birth-tourism businesses in Southern California, the biggest federal criminal probe ever on childbirth tourism, in which pregnant women come to the United States to give birth so their children will become American citizens.

The businesses coached their clients to deceive United States immigration officials and pay indigent rates at hospitals to deliver their babies, even though many of the clients were wealthy, investigators said. Some Chinese couples were charged as much as $100,000 for a birth-tourism package that included housing, nannies and shopping excursions to Gucci.

The background

Following the Civil War, America enacted the 14th Amendment to ensure fair and equal treatment for recently freed black slaves that had been denied rights of citizenship under the Constitution. It states, in relevant part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The nation lacked an immigration policy at the time, so no provision was made in the language of the Amendment to clarify whether it applied to immigrants or only African slaves. In 1965, the US Congress passed the Immigration Act. Under a loophole in its provisions, when read in conjunction with the 14th Amendment, any babies born on US soil have automatic American citizenship, whether or not their parents were in the country illegally. This led to illegal alien parents crossing the border to give birth to a child who could act as an “anchor” to keep them in the country and provide them with permanent US residency.


The January 2019 arrests follows on other efforts in recent history. The basis of the arrests is visa fraud by the parents. A news article about a stream (several hundred a year) of pregnant Russian mothers to give birth said that “Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.”

There appears to be no public record of citizenship gained through fraud on the part of parents can be revoked. There is a fair amount of opinion that parents cannot claim residency on the basis of their baby’s citizenship; and that the birthright child cannot apply for their parent’s green card until they are 18.

How many?

Center for Immigration Studies proposed in 2015 a shaky estimate of 36,000, using a slight discrepancy in two sampled surveys of households.

What about births by unauthorized immigrant mothers?

Per Pew Research the number rose sharply in the 1990s, peaked in 2005, and is now probably about 250,000.

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