Boom­ing baby biz

Qns. tot stab­bing shines light on shad­owy ‘birth tourism’ mar­ket

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY SCAR­LETT KUANG, EL­IZ­A­BETH ELIZALDE AND NANCY DIL­LON With Cathe­rina Gioino and Kerry Burke

A re­cent tragedy in Queens has raised ques­tions about the shad­owy busi­ness of “birth tourism.”

Last month, deranged day­care worker Yu Fen Wang, 52, stabbed three in­fants and two adults at a Flush­ing nurs­ery cater­ing to both lo­cal Chi­nese im­mi­grants and, sources said, for­eign moms in the coun­try to give birth and ob­tain U.S. cit­i­zen­ship for their new­borns.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view at Rik­ers Is­land, a sui­ci­dal Wang apol­o­gized for the bloody ram­page at Mei Xin Care on Sept. 20 and said she had an ap­par­ent psy­chotic break.

“I don’t know why I did such a thing,” Wang told the Daily News, speak­ing in her na­tive Man­darin. “At the mo­ment, I thought they were not ba­bies, but wolves.”

Wang has pleaded not guilty to five counts of at­tempted mur­der.

Her abil­ity to carry out such car­nage put a bright spot­light on the types of nurs­eries that typ­i­cally of­fer round-the­clock care to in­fants and new moms fol­low­ing the Chi­nese and Korean cus­tom of a 30day rest pe­riod af­ter de­liv­ery.

The cen­ters, which of­ten mar­ket ex­pen­sive pack­ages to for­eign moms on cit­i­zen­shipseek­ing so­journs, re­main an in-de­mand ser­vice around the metro area, a News in­ves­ti­ga­tion found.

Ads on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia pro­mote the hash­tag #USBirthTourism and a pop­u­lar Chi­nese lan­guage web­site listed dozens of lo­cal busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in the space with names such as “Golden Cra­dle” and “US Baby Care.”

When The News vis­ited 11 of the sites over the past week, they ap­peared to have ei­ther shut­tered or gone into hid­ing, pos­si­bly due to the heat from re­cent head­lines.

One oper­a­tor in New Jer­sey said some of her clients have in­deed been Chi­nese women who travel to the U.S. for the sole pur­pose of giv­ing birth.

The oper­a­tor, who gave her name only as Ms. Liu, said she charges $7,500 for 30 days of ser­vice, in­clud­ing new­born care and cook­ing spe­cial meals for the new mother.

The for­eign moms aren’t break­ing any laws as long as they’re up­front about their in­ten­tions, gain a valid visa and have the money to cover their med­i­cal costs, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion.

Liu, 56, said she’s been in the busi­ness eight years.

She used to have 10 em­ploy­ees but to avoid any le­gal risk, she now only pro­vides her own one-woman ser­vice to well-heeled clients, she said.

“Ev­ery­one is try­ing to fig­ure out how to do preg­nancy care busi­ness here,” she told The News.

Liu said in China a “yue sao” – or 30-day af­ter-birth care cen­ter – must have a spe­cial li­cense to op­er­ate. But be­cause the prac­tice is so uniquely Chi­nese and Korean, there a reg­u­la­tion gap in the U.S.

She said providers in Flush­ing tend to of­fer the low­est prices, usu­ally around $4,500 plus 20% tips.

Ser­vices pro­vided to the Korean mar­ket gen­er­ally run $7,500 to $8,500, she said.

One lo­cal politi­cian agreed the in­dus­try needs more reg­u­la­tion.

“We’re try­ing to fig­ure the gaps and loop­holes and how th­ese busi­nesses fall into this grey area,” Assem­bly­man Ron Kim told The News.

He said it ap­peared Mei Xin Care’s cus­tomers were pre­dom­i­nantly lo­cal res­i­dents. Ei­ther way, all the fam­i­lies who sign up for such ser­vices de­serve pro­tec­tion — as do the peo­ple who staff the cen­ters.

The way it stands now, such reg­u­la­tions is elu­sive.

“Even though th­ese busi­nesses are largely un­li­censed, they’re not il­le­gal,” he said.

In­deed, the only in­frac­tion Mei Xin Care has been cited for is a build­ing code vi­o­la­tion — op­er­at­ing as a com­mer­cial busi­ness in a res­i­den­tial lo­ca­tion. Be­cause the par­ents lived on site dur­ing the in­fant care, the busi­ness did not re­quire any day­care li­cens­ing.

“Right now we’re try­ing to fig­ure out the best leg­is­la­tion to ei­ther crack down or li­cense th­ese busi­nesses so the work­ers are prop­erly vet­ted and their back­grounds cap­tured,” Kim told The News.

Sources said some op­er­a­tors like to fly off the reg­u­la­tory radar be­cause they fear raids by fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

In 2015, ICE of­fi­cials car­ried out 37 fed­eral search war­rants tied to “Chi­nese ma­ter­nity houses” in Los An­ge­les, Orange and San Bernardino coun­ties in Cal­i­for­nia.

The case led to felony visa fraud charges against at least one oper­a­tor and the con­vic­tion of a Cal­i­for­nia im­mi­gra­tion lawyer.

In New York, in­dus­try play­ers felt the pres­sure too.

“Most of the busi­ness stopped op­er­at­ing about three years ago be­cause the govern­ment started to fine them,” a man who de­clined to give his name but said he used to own a cen­ter in the city told The News.

Still, the prac­tice re­mains on­go­ing, though at a hard to as­cer­tain rate.

The CDC keeps track of the num­ber of ba­bies born to for­eign moms in the U.S. each year, but the fig­ure doesn’t spec­ify the num­ber born to moms with valid visas.

Ac­cord­ing to the CDC, there were 9,254 ba­bies born to for­eign moms in 2017, less than 1% of the to­tal 3,864,754 ba­bies born last year.

A decade ear­lier, the num­ber was 7,775 of 4,324,008 births.

In the cases of Chi­nese moms who give birth while trav­el­ing on visas, the vast ma­jor­ity re­turn to China with their U.S. ci­ti­zen ba­bies, ex­perts said.

The birthright cit­i­zen­ship is con­sid­ered a sta­tus sym­bol, sources told The News, giv­ing the chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to travel more easily for school­ing and busi­ness later in life.

“It’s clear that (th­ese) Chi­nese na­tion­als have the re­sources. They have the re­sources to come to the United States and to have a child here for the pur­poses of se­cur­ing a fu­ture for ei­ther them­selves or their child,” Prof. Tarry Hum, chair of Queens Col­lege’s De­part­ment of Ur­ban Stud­ies, told The News.

“That says some­thing about the con­di­tions of China even for those who are in the mid­dle class or who are af­flu­ent,” she said.

Hum said the stab­bing in­ci­dent in Queens is ev­i­dence the in­dus­try needs more su­per­vi­sion, so that peo­ple work­ing at 24-hours nurs­eries are prop­erly man­aged and sup­ported.

“Th­ese work­ers are prob­a­bly over­worked and un­der­paid and they’re tak­ing care of chil­dren who are of a priv­i­leged class,” Hum said.

“I don’t think that ra­tio­nal­izes any kind of vi­o­lence, but it con­tex­tu­al­izes maybe the ex­treme stress of work­ers but also a need for men­tal health ser­vices and in­ter­ven­tion,” she said.

NYPD at Queens build­ing where a woman stabbed five peo­ple, three of them in­fants, be­fore slash­ing her own wrists last month.

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