2018-10-31 14:12:34

Agencies that help Chinese women give birth in the U.S. have seen an influx of potential customers in the 24 hours since U.S. President Donald Trump told Axios that he plans to end birthright citizenship for children of noncitizens born on American soil.

“Even clients who aren’t pregnant yet have been coming to us after the news,” a saleswoman at Pandamama, an agency that has maternity hotels in San Diego and Los Angeles, told Sixth Tone’s reporter, who posed as a potential customer. “Some once-hesitant clients have suddenly decided that they’ll go [to the U.S.] immediately.”

During the Tuesday interview with “Axios on HBO,” Trump said that he planned to issue an executive order to abolish automatic citizenship for anyone born in the United States — a protection granted in 1868 by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States ... with all of those benefits,” Trump said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, and it has to end.” (As several media outlets were quick to point out, the president was mistaken: 1 in 4 countries grant birthright citizenship.)

“Don’t worry! It’s difficult to amend the constitution, so there might not be any change in the next three years. However, it could become harder to acquire a visa, so if you’re planning to give birth in the U.S., you’d better hurry up!” the Pandamama saleswoman said. In a post to her WeChat Moments social feed, she wrote: “It’s not too late to give birth to two children in the U.S.”

Over the past few years, helping Chinese couples have children in the U.S. has become a booming industry. In a country where resources can be inconsistently distributed across social classes, some view U.S. citizenship as a way to get ahead. As one middle school teacher lamented in 2011, “It’s hard for a humble family to produce a winner.” With parents clamoring to secure a better education and better health care for their children, giving birth in foreign countries — and particularly the United States — has become a popular choice.

Shanghai resident Joyce Xie gave birth to her first child in California in 2015; then in November 2017, she flew to the U.S. again, staying there for three months before having her second child. The stay-at-home mom told Sixth Tone that she hopes all her long-distance traveling will pay off some day. She had wanted her children to go to the best schools in Shanghai — but because neither she nor her husband holds a Shanghai hukou, or household registration, their children are not be eligible for public education in the city.

After much deliberation, Xie decided to give birth in the United States. “Both times, the immigration officers asked the purpose of my visit. I told them, ‘I’m here to give birth and I’ve got $50,000 in cash,’” she said, alluding to the common perception that American immigration authorities are more accommodating of those who demonstrate that they won’t drain the country’s resources. “Colleges and universities in the United States give preference to students from their country, so I hope that with U.S. citizenship, it will be easier for my children to get into better universities.” For now, Xie and her kids are living in Shanghai, where her 3-year-old daughter’s international kindergarten costs over 100,000 yuan ($14,300) per year.

But not all mothers are having their children abroad legally and honestly. “Finding Mr. Right” — a romantic comedy about a woman who travels from Beijing to Seattle to give birth at an unlicensed maternity center — was one of China’s most popular films in 2013, and has inspired countless copycats. Liu Jing, who gave birth to her son in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that she considered having a child in the U.S. after one of her friends did so. Liu said her friend — who declined Sixth Tone’s interview request — hopes that when her child turns 18, he will choose American over Chinese citizenship so that she and her husband can become naturalized citizens themselves one day.

But Liu doesn’t agree with her friend’s underhanded methods. “She spent her life savings to give birth in the United States, and they had to hide in a maternity hotel in some small town on the East Coast for fear of being found out,” Liu explained. “I didn’t want to take that risk.”

After giving birth to her first child in the United States last year, 30-year-old Angela Li is planning to fly back to the U.S. soon: Her second child’s expected delivery date falls around 2019’s Chinese New Year holiday. “The cost of giving birth at an international maternity hospital in China is about the same as giving birth in the U.S., and I prefer the medical services [in America],” she said. “We will pay everything in cash rather than sponge off the U.S. government’s medical resources — private hospitals won’t refuse our money.”

After studying in the U.S. for six years, Li has her family’s future meticulously mapped out. “Amending the U.S. Constitution doesn’t happen fast,” she said. “Maybe this is just Trump giving a tantalizing sound bite ahead of the midterm elections.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A still frame from the 2013 film ‘Finding Mr. Right’ depicts a Chinese couple who traveled to the U.S. to have their child. VCG)