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Nineteen people have been indicted for their roles in an international “birth tourism” ring that brought “thousands” of pregnant women mainly from China to southern California so they could give birth in America and have a U.S. citizen child, according to federal prosecutors.

The 17 charges unsealed Thursday marked the first time criminal charges have been filed in federal court in a birth tourism case, the Justice Department said in a news release.

The Justice Department said federal and local law enforcement on Thursay arrested three main suspects — Dongyuan Li, Michael Wei Yueh Liu, and Jing Dong — who ran USA Happy Baby, Inc.

The three ran birthing and maternity houses where women who had paid between $15,000 and $50,000 each would live before and after the baby was born. The houses were raided in 2015.

“These cases allege a wide array of criminal schemes that sought to defeat our immigration laws — laws that welcome foreign visitors so long as they are truthful about their intentions when entering the country,” said Central District of California U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna.”Statements by the operators of these birthing houses show contempt for the United States, while they were luring clients with the power and prestige of US citizenship for their children. Some of the wealthy clients of these businesses also showed blatant contempt for the US by ignoring court orders directing them to stay in the country to assist with the investigation and by skipping out on their unpaid hospital bills.”

New details in the unsealed indictments revealed the scammers promised customers access to the “most attractive nationality,” “better air,” “priority for jobs in US government,” “free education from junior high school to public high school,” and the chance to “receive your senior supplement benefits when you are living overseas.”

“Receiving a tourist visa from the United States Government is a privilege, not a right,” RS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryant Jackson said in a statement.

The scammers also coached women on how to pass visa interviews and overstay their visas in the U.S. and cash in on federal benefits. The indictments state the Chinese customers were told what to say during U.S. Consulate interviews in China, including that they only planned to visit for two weeks.

The women were also told to wear loose-fitting clothing when they traveled to the U.S. so their pregnancy would not be obvious to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the airport.

The indictments also state women were told to fly first to Hawaii and then on to Los Angeles because the customs officers in Hawaii were easier to get by.

In return, those arranging the trips made millions of dollars.

Legal documents also state those involved in overseeing the ploy also laundered money and defrauded property owners who rented the houses and apartments to them.

The U.S. is one of 30 countries out of 194 that recognize a baby born within its borders as a citizen even if his or her parents are non-citizens, including those born to a parent on a temporary visa or illegally in the country.


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