LOS ANGELES - In an apparent crackdown, U.S. authorities have arrested 10 Korean mothers who traveled to the United States to give birth so that their babies would be eligible for American citizenship.
The women were held on visa violations, charged with having come to the country for reasons other than stated on their entry permits. U.S. immigration authorities also detained a Korean broker operating here and charged the person, who was not immediately identified, with arranging the trips for the mothers-to-be.
The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security, and other bureaus including the Internal Revenue Service are focusing on businesses in the Korean section of Los Angeles set up to serve pregnant travelers, U.S. officials said. Korean women, who give birth while on a tourist visa, can exempt their sons from the draft in Korea and gain access to U.S. public education.
The practice by Koreans has been ongoing for years, but now the U.S. government is making an effort to stem it.
According to the U.S. officials, the immigration authorities detained the 10 Korean women on Sept. 10 for questioning. The women reportedly all visited the same State Department field office on the Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to apply for U.S. passports for their newborns. They had given birth at a local clinic run by Koreans, officials said.
Immigration officials said they arrested and detained the women because they have entered the country with tourist visas, but had different purposes of their travels. The officials' suspicions were raised because the women all used the same address in applying for the passports for their babies.
"We focused our questions on the real purposes of their visits," an investigator, who asked for anonymity, said yesterday. "The mothers frankly admitted that they were here to give birth."
The mothers were released after being questioned, and the U.S. immigration authorities sent letters to the mothers ordering them to leave the country within six months.
Some of the mothers reportedly returned to Korea Monday after obtaining passports for their babies with attorneys' help. Others also said they would leave the country as soon as their babies' documents are ready.
"We have no issues against tourists with legitimate documents," a spokesman of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration said yesterday. "But, if we see continuing issues [associated with the trips by pregnant women to give birth], we may conduct a joint investigation with other government agencies."
An official of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul warned that the U.S. immigration office could blacklist the women and reject their future entry to the country.
As thousands of pregnant Korean women sought to go to the United States to give birth, an industry specializing in helping them was spawned in Los Angeles. No official statistics are available, but industry insiders estimated that about 5,000 births by Korean visitors occurred last year, and another 8,000 as of August this year. A two-month trip costs roughly $20,000.
by Jang Yeon-hwa, Jo Taek-su <firstname.lastname@example.org