A large chunk of live births in the Commonwealth during a more than two-year period are being attributed to foreign nationals, mainly Chinese tourists, which has raised some eyebrows on Capital Hill.
Senate Health and Welfare committee chair Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota), for one, is urging U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to look into this and take appropriate action.
“With statistics provided by the [Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.] showing that Chinese birth rate has been dramatically increasing year after year here in the CNMI, our USCIS should actively and proactively be involved in the enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws as this matter falls under their jurisdiction,” said Santos.
“The USCIS visa waiver program [could] also be revisited, that is, instead of granting a 45-day visitor waiver, it may be reduced to 21 days like other countries’ visa waiver for U.S. citizens,” suggested Santos.
Santos also reiterated the need for airlines to strictly enforce their flying restrictions to not only combat birth tourism, but also to avoid complications brought about by the unusual conditions of traveling when pregnant.
“Any airline caught in violation of such policy shall be penalized at the maximum, including revocation of its license to fly and/or incarceration if the infant is born with physical or mental defects due to airline screening radiation exposure, cabin pressure altitude or other health risks associated when travelling during pregnancy,” she said.
House Federal and Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) thinks that CHCC numbers calls for concern mostly on the possibility that certain tour agency establishments offer these kinds of services as a package to those who can afford it.
“The numbers are very concerning. Still, we would like to have more concrete data on exactly how many of these births from foreign parents are really tourist births by definition—meaning they came in here as tourists for the purpose of giving birth,” he said.
Demapan said that meetings with U.S. Customs and Border Protection have brought up the topic for discussion. The only hindrance to CBP is the amendment of the law without discriminating against pregnant women. Demapan reiterated that changing the language of the law would affect all Chinese tourists, not just the pregnant.
“It is very concerning that this parity [between Chinese and other ethnicities] is very large, but I’ve had several meetings with the CBP. There are a lot of things that come into play here,” he said.
“Obviously, there are federal and local laws, and we walk this fine line discriminating against pregnant travel, so we can’t just turn travelers away just because they are pregnant. However, what we can look at from an immigration standpoint is in the amount of time that travelers are allowed to be in the CNMI, we have to compare that time to the term of the pregnancy,” said Demapan, referring to possible solutions.
“The big question is how do we make a decision that is aimed at curbing this circumvention of the law, but also ensure that that decision is not discriminating. That is one of the hardships the CBP is experiencing—making that call to ensure that there is no discrimination because in the end, that policy may backfire. There are human rights advocates and there are human rights that need to be followed,” he added.
Demapan thinks that the CNMI government is at a disadvantage because of this.
“The local government right now is in a difficult position because we can’t make any policies on the immigration side relating to the entry of these foreign nationals into American soil,” he said.
House Federal and Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) mentioned that payment for the medical services is to be paid for prior to the processing of papers by CHCC.
“Before [CHCC] issues the birth certificate, they make sure that these individuals that were provided services pay for the billing, which is over thousands of dollars. That is the latest in-house policy of CHCC. You need the birth certificate to create the passport for the child. Without that, there is no way you can apply for a U.S. passport for the child,” he said.
A federal law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA mandates CHCC to offer aid to those in need, regardless of status or lack of insurance.
“There are laws in place that [CHCC] cannot decline services. Despite having no insurance, there is a law that the lone hospital has to provide services to anybody. However, they can provide in-house policies before providing the necessary documents such as the birth certificate. They have every right to make sure that such a patient is required to pay all the dues for the services that were provided for the patient,” said Sablan.
The spike in live births is tracked to the time when visa waivers for Chinese and Russian tourists were lifted in 2009.
According to CHCC Health & Vital Statistics Office, total births starting from January 2014 up to October of 2016 yielded a total of 3,141. This included resident, temporary resident, and tourist births on Saipan.
The statistics were separated by ethnicity and by status, resulting in pretty surprising results.
From January 2014 to October 2016, a total of 1,034 births of Chinese parents were recorded, comprising 32.92 percent of total births on Saipan. Births of Korean national parents comprised 29 total births, which is a puny 0.92 percent of total births on Saipan.
In 2009, only eight babies were born of Chinese parents.
In 2014, a total of 1,076 babies of foreign national parents were born on Saipan, with China consisting of 1,034 live births at 96.38 percent. Second to China was Korea, at 29 live births (2.69 percent), Philippines at six live births (0.55 percent), Japan at two live births (0.18 percent), Russia at four live births (0.37 percent), and Kazakhstan, with one live birth for 2014 (0.09 percent).
All information is from January 2014 to October 2016.
According to federal law, the citizenship clause states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
This is also known as “jus soli,” or the “right of the soil,” which means that anyone born in countries that follow jus soli is automatically a citizen of that country.
As of today, only two countries practice jus soli: Canada and the U.S.