New Emissary

Birth Tourism Controversy

Recent news suggests that women aren’t just ‘rushing across the border to give birth.’

In the early 2000s, South Korea was often cited in connection with ‘birth tourism,’ a phenomenon which saw pregnant women travelling abroad specifically to give birth in a foreign country.

Back in 2002 for instance, the LA Times reported on the topic, suggesting that birth tourism might be the ‘ultimate gift’ that South Korean parents can give their offspring, and stating that: ‘Those who can cough up the $20,000 or so it costs are coming to the United States by the thousands to give birth so their newborns can have American citizenship.’

At the time, the paper also suggested that some of the future perks for Korean children with US citizenship would be the ability to avoid military service and have better chances of studying abroad.

Indeed, Jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is a right by which nationality or citizenship can be acknowledged for any individual born in the territory of the related state. It’s currently observed by about a quarter of the world’s nations, including the US and Canada. In the United States at present, the majority of non-resident mothers who choose to have their children in the US hail not only from Korea, but also from China, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey and parts of Eastern Europe. 

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But earlier this year, English-language Korean news Chosun Ilbo reported that birth tourism is coming under heavy scrutiny from critics in the US who have started to publicly accuse foreign mothers giving birth in the country of taking advantage of a loophole in the system.

Last month, The Economist picked up on the story, noting in its piece the increasing fervour surrounding the topic in the US, and citing an example of one Texas Republican congressman who warned of ‘enemies sending mothers-to-be to America to have their babies who could then be “raised and coddled as future terrorists” before being sent back.’ Meanwhile various other news sources have reported that Republicans in the US are pushing for a change in the country’s 14th Amendment to deny the automatic citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution, even creating the notion of pregnant women ‘rushing across the border to give birth,’ so their offspring can benefit from social services only offered to the country’s citizens.

This week, though, there seems to have been a backlash against any such movement, with news agencies around the world running pieces that put holes in such arguments. For example, according to the AP, ‘a closer examination shows that most children of illegal immigrants are born to parents…who have made the United States their home for years.’ Of ‘340,000 babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States in 2008,’ for instance, the report states, ‘85 percent of the parents had been in the country for more than a year, and more than half for at least 5 years.’