US targets birthright citizenship with new visa restrictions

Latest restrictions from the Trump administration will prevent pregnant women from obtaining visas solely to give birth in the United States. 

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
A flag is waved outside the White House in Washington. On Jan. 23, 2020 the Trump administration announced new visa restrictions to limit the number of women who travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can obtain citizenship.

The Trump administration is coming out Thursday with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting "birth tourism," in which women travel to the United States to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport.

Visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment, according to State Department guidance sent Wednesday and viewed by The Associated Press. The applicants will have to prove they are coming for medical treatment and they have the money to pay for it.

The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity. The rules will take effect Friday.

The practice of traveling to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. Women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

President Donald Trump's administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but Mr. Trump has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship – anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. The Republican president has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it's not so easy to do.

Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.

Consular officers don't have the right to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth.

Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the U.S. and abroad. American companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the U.S. The U.S. has been cracking down on the practice since before Mr. Trump took office.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The draft rule is "intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry," a State Department spokesperson said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.

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