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Maternity hotels help women give birth in U.S. [Google+ hangout]

January 4, 2013 | 12:16 pm

Times immigration reporter Cindy Chang will join city editor Shelby Grad at 2 p.m. today in a Google+ hangout to discuss "maternity hotels," which cater to pregnant women from Chinese-speaking nations who want an American-citizen newborn.

The women pay as much as $20,000 to stay in the facilities during the final months of pregnancy, then spend an additional month recuperating and awaiting the new baby's U.S. passport. U.S. citizenship will allow some of the children to return to the U.S. to take advantage of free public schools and low-interest student loans. Parents may also be able to piggyback on the child's status and apply for a green card when the child turns 21.

From Chang's Friday article

Many of the hotels operate in violation of zoning laws, their locations known mainly to neighbors who observe the expectant mothers' frequent comings and goings.

Such was the case in Chino Hills, where residents recently protested an alleged maternity hotel operating in a hilltop mansion. City officials have sued the property owner, claiming that the seven-bedroom house was illegally subdivided with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, with at least 10 mothers and babies living there. San Gabriel officials shut down a similar facility in 2011, and Chino Hills officials hope their lawsuit will result in a similar outcome.

Critics also cite safety concerns surrounding the largely unregulated industry. A local attorney says he is representing a maternity hotel in a case where a baby was dropped and died. The California Department of Public Health also is investigating a case that may involve maternity hotels, said a spokesman who said he could not provide further details.

Federal immigration authorities say no law prevents pregnant women from entering the country. The women typically travel on tourist visas and return home with their newborns, who will have the option of coming to the U.S. for schooling, sometimes while the parents remain in Asia. American citizenship is also considered a hedge against corruption and political instability in the children's home countries. For some, giving birth in the U.S. staves off hefty fines under China's one-child policy.

Maternity hotels have proliferated in the last decade as mainland China's new middle class tries to give its offspring every advantage. But birth tourism is not limited to Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. South Korean and Turkish mothers are also reported to pay thousands of dollars for package deals that include hotel rooms and assistance with the visa process.

Since the publicity surrounding the Chino Hills case, Los Angeles County officials have received at least two dozen complaints, mostly regarding sites in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights. Curt Hagman, a Republican Assemblyman from Chino Hills, said he is looking into whether state government can play a role in addressing the issue.

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