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Chino Hills maternity hotel controversy heats up

December 11, 2012 | 10:57 pm

Chino Hills officials told residents Tuesday night that they have filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the operators of a so-called maternity hotel. 

The outrage surrounding the hotel, which is located in an upscale residential neighborhood and allegedly houses women who travel from China to give birth to babies with U.S. citizenship, has inflamed local political rivalries and made some Asian residents fearful.

At a council meeting Tuesday night, city officials expressed confidence that the hotel will eventually shut down. In addition to the lawsuit, they have served the property owner with cease and desist orders for operating a business in a residential zone and making improvements to the house without a permit.

"We have this problem in our crosshairs, and we're working actively to take care of this," said City Councilman Art Bennett.

But residents of the wealthy suburban city worry that the problem cannot be stamped out merely by wielding municipal zoning codes.

"This illegal hotel is an affront to the residents, to the city and to U.S. immigration law," said James Gallagher. "We welcome all who agree with our vision and comply with our laws. But unfortunately some people come into the city with the aim of making money."

A group called Not In Chino Hills has posted the address of about a dozen other alleged maternity hotels in the eastern San Gabriel Valley.

Also Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked its staff to come up with recommendations on how to deal with the maternity hotels.

Following media reports on the Chino Hills situation, the county has received multiple complaints about alleged maternity hotels, including 12 in Rowland Heights and eight in Hacienda Heights, Supervisor Don Knabe said.

Knabe said that in addition to neighborhood quality-of-life issues, he is concerned for the expectant mothers' safety.

U.S. immigration officials have said it is not illegal for a pregnant woman to travel to the U.S. as long as she has a valid visa and does not lie about the purpose of her trip.

At Tuesday's meeting, members of Not In Chino Hills denied reports that they were harassing women from the facilities. The group's website urges residents to keep an eye out for a black Mercedes van that is "transporting pregnant women throughout Chino Hills," noting that they should report its location without following it.

For some longtime Asian American residents, the controversy has created an atmosphere of suspicion directed at them.

"People look at me like, 'Is she from the hotel?'" said Annie Ren, 29, the mother of a 9-month-old. "The city wasn't like this before. I grew up here."

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- Cindy Chang

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