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US crackdown on Chinese 'maternity tourism' in LA

[LOS ANGELES] US investigators launched dawn raids on Tuesday on dozens of Los Angeles locations suspected of offering "maternity tourism" services for mostly Chinese mothers wanting to give birth in the United States.

The raids targeted apartment complexes in the Irvine, Rancho Cucamonga, Rowland Heights and Walnut districts outside LA where the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency says foreign clients are housed.

The businesses, which advertised online, had names including "You Win USA Vacation Resort" and "USA Happy Baby Inc."

"Such businesses provide travel and lodging services to pregnant foreign nationals interested in coming to the United States to give birth so their offspring will be American citizens," ICE spokesman Virginia Kice said.

When babies born in the US reach adulthood they can apply for visas for family members living abroad, ICE noted.

Ms Kice said the raids, in three dozen locations overall, aimed to gather "further evidence related to a variety of possible criminal violations, including visa and tax fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy."

According to ICE, the maternity tourism businesses cater mostly to Chinese women who pay US$15,000-$50,000 for the services, which can include getting social security numbers and US passports for their offspring.

Ms Kice added that investigators alleged that "the operators of the maternity tourism businesses coached clients to misrepresent the purpose of their visit in order to obtain tourist visas to enter the US."

"Business operators also instructed clients to wear loose clothing on their inbound flights and not carry baby paraphernalia in their luggage to avoid arousing suspicion when being inspected" by US customs officers.

The fees paid cover lodging, transportation, and food, but do not include medical care. The women appear to pay cash for pre-natal visits and the actual delivery.

The more expensive maternity tourism packages included recreational activities such as visits to Disneyland, shopping malls, "even an outing to a firing range," it noted.