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L.A. supervisors approve task force to examine 'maternity hotels'

February 5, 2013 |  2:21 pm

Photo: A passer-by glances over placards left outside San Bernardino County Superior Court by protestors during a preliminary injunction against a Chino Hills maternity hotel. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Immigrants rights advocates complained Tuesday about the move by Los Angeles County supervisors to crack down on so-called "maternity hotels," facilities that primarily host Asian women who travel to the United States while pregnant and stay to recover after giving birth.

The facilities' presence in the Los Angeles area, particularly the San Gabriel Valley, has generated controversy in recent months.

It is not illegal for pregnant women to travel to the United States to give birth, but residents of the neighborhoods where the centers operate have complained that they are violating zoning and building code regulations.

The complaints have surged in recent months since a facility in Chino Hills was shut down. City officials said the site had been illegally subdivided into 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms.

The county supervisors passed a motion Tuesday introduced by Supervisor Don Knabe, forming a task force to look at ways to better regulate the facilities. It was pared down from Knabe's original proposal, which called for county staff to draft an ordinance that would eliminate the centers through zoning regulations.

The original proposal also called for state and federal agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to be involved in a task force focused on the issue, but the supervisors eliminated that provision.

Knabe said the facilities, which are not specifically covered by county zoning rules, "have grown beyond the scope of a zoning issue. The conditions inside some of these houses pose a significant public safety and public health hazard."

Some advocates for immigrant communities spoke against the proposed crackdown.

"We're extremely concerned about what appears to be a premature conclusion that these facilities should be eliminated through zoning regulations," said Betty Hong, policy director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "This seems to be an overly broad and disproportionately heavyhanded response to some concerns that have been raised."

She said the proposed inclusion of ICE in the task force sent a "chilling, frightening message" to immigrants.

Xiomera Corpeno of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles told the supervisors that the facilities should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

"We feel that yes, there are concerns about some, very little, of these birthing centers, but we should not create such a sweeping task force to go after everybody," she said.

At the request of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the motion that passed called for an ordinance that would regulate, not eliminate, the centers and also requested that community stakeholders be involved in the process.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich requested that the state and federal agencies not be part of the task force.

"If this is a zoning issue, it should be dealt with as a zoning issue," he said. "If it's a health issue, it should be dealt with by the health department."

The motion also asked county staff to look for funding for Mandarin and Cantonese translators to aid inspectors.

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-- Abby Sewell at the County Hall of Administration

Photo: Placards left by protesters sit outside San Bernardino County Superior Court during a hearing on a preliminary injunction against a Chino Hills maternity hotel. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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