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New State Department Rules Crack Down on ‘Birth Tourism’ Under National Security Guise

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Today, the State Department announced new rules which will make it harder for pregnant women to enter the U.S. on tourist visas as part of a Trump administration effort to reduce “birth tourism,” or foreign citizens coming into the country to give birth so their children can receive U.S. citizenship. The rules will go into effect tomorrow.

Consular officers have been instructed to deny B1 and B2 nonimmigrant visas—visas for tourism, business, or medical treatment—to pregnant women who they believe intend “to travel for this primary purpose” of “obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child.” Though these changes do not explicitly prohibit all pregnant women from receiving B1 and B2 visas, they do extend more discretion to consular officers to deny those applications if they suspect the applicant might be coming to give birth. The Wall Street Journal notes these decisions “are typically final, and foreign nationals looking to appeal their decisions in U.S. courts have seen little success.”

The State Department claims that “birth tourism poses risks to national security” and that the “industry is…rife with criminal activity.” Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, noted that these changes “will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism.”

As with many administration proclamations, this might be more about symbolism than policy. In October 2018, Trump said he would sign an executive order ending the automatic right to citizenship for people born in the U.S. In August 2019, he noted he was toying with the idea still, saying, “You walk over the border and have a baby, congratulations, the baby is now a U.S. citizen…It’s frankly ridiculous.”

Only about 10,000 babies were born in the U.S. to foreign residents, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2017 (though reliable statistics on how many children are born to foreign residents are hard to get). Still, entering the country through a tourist visa to give birth (and then using the child’s citizenship status to later immigrate) is not an especially common or speedy way of getting citizenship.

As Reason‘s Shikha Dalmia has written:

“The ‘anchor’ in anchor babies refers to the birthright citizenship of the child, who then can supposedly turn around and sponsor his or her mom and dad. But children can’t sponsor their parents before the age of 21. And undocumented parents are supposed to wait 10 years outside America before qualifying, putting the total lag time between birth and a parental green card at more than three decades. Moving to the U.S. illegally while pregnant isn’t much of an infiltration strategy.”

The likelier motivation for this move is the one Trump complained about last year: Foreign nationals who give birth in the United States give birth to U.S. citizens. These women may also be seeking access to better medical care than they can receive in their countries of origin, or opportunities for their future children that they never had for themselves (and, as Dalmia notes, likely will never have). This rule guarantees that those women will be treated with enormous suspicion, regardless of where they plan to give birth, who they’re coming to visit, how long they intended to stay, or whether they can pay for the medical services they’re seeking. But this new rule will have pretty much no impact on national security.

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