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San Gabriel shuts down makeshift maternity ward catering to 'birthing tourism'

March 24, 2011 |  9:06 am

House in San Gabriel used as an illegal birthing center. From the outside, they were typical Southern Californian townhouses with bright white walls and Spanish tile roofs.

But inside, a new kind of international business thrived -– maternity wards for wealthy expectant mothers from across the Pacific.

For a fee, Chinese women received room and board and a chance to deliver their babies in the United States and become mothers to instant U.S. citizens.

Southern California has become a hub for this growing phenomenon, known as birthing tourism.

One such business was busted earlier this month when code enforcement officials from the city of San Gabriel responded to a complaint about noise and an unusual number of pregnant women in a quiet Palm Avenue neighborhood.

When officials went to the location, they found about 10 mothers and seven newborns living in three townhouses that had been illegally converted into maternity wards.

"The people were sitting and eating at a table, all the babies were in bassinets with a nurse attending to them," said Jennifer Davis, community development director for the city of San Gabriel.

Officials shut down the operation March 8 and fined the manager of the property, Dwight Chang, $800. Chang, of Arcadia, was cited for illegal construction and ordered to acquire permits and return the premises to their original condition.

"They had moved walls around without proper permits; they did interior work that can sometimes create unsafe environments afterward," Davis said. "And it's a business in a residential neighborhood. They are not permitted to operate there."

The Chinese mothers have since left the U.S. or moved into hotels, officials said.


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-- Ching-Ching Ni in San Gabriel

Photo: A house in San Gabriel that authorities say was used as an illegal birthing center. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times