A recent article in the New York Times describes the discovery of birth houses in San Gabriel, California, where “relatively wealthy” Chinese women were stealthily coming to deliver their babies in a well-equipped facility with nursing care. The headline, “Arriving as Pregnant Tourists, Leaving with American Babies,” with its subtle innuendo, speaks to the nefarious purpose of such births: to create automatic American citizens. The text, with its reference to “prenatal vitamins…tucked into rice cookers” sketches a picture of the illegally interconnected townhomes as distinctively Asian (who else eats rice, after all?). And use of the term “tourism” conjures an image of rich, foreign women on holiday, stopping by to pop out a fresh, new American citizen before heading out to the mall.
A 2008 article in the Montreal Gazette deploys the term maternity tourism (also called birth tourism) to describe the phenomenon: “wealthy mothers from other countries come to a rich, stable country to give birth, bestowing upon the born a coveted citizenship.” The article’s author, struggling mightily not to appear judgmental (the woman in his story is not even a maternity tourist, as he acknowledges), nonetheless follows the definition with this statement: “Sometimes…medical bills are not paid.” This Canadian publication does not mount the kind of hysteria one sees in U.S. newspapers along the United States – Mexico border, and the author even speaks to humanitarian needs; but the bottom line is that maternity tourism leaves “its share of unpaid bills”; “Quebec hospitals lose about $20 million a year to non-residents”; and “You can see why doctors who are cheated get sick of it.”