SAN GABRIEL, Calif. — Authorities have closed three upscale townhouses that were operating as a maternity center for Chinese mothers paying thousands of dollars to give birth in the United States so the children would automatically gain citizenship.
Police and city inspectors found seven newborns and two mothers when they closed the homes for building code violations on March 8 in San Gabriel, a suburb east of Los Angeles that is home to a large Asian population.
The women, Chinese and Taiwanese nationals who spoke little English, told officials their families had paid to send them to the United States to give birth, city code compliance officer Clayton Anderson said. He did not know how much was paid.
The women stayed at the center before and after giving birth at local hospitals, he said.
The three homes, part of a five-unit condo development on a quiet residential street, had adjoining inside walls removed and had rooms divided so mothers each had separate spaces, Anderson said.
The babies were kept in clear plastic bassinets in a kitchen converted into a nursery.
“There was a woman there who said she was a nurse but she kind of scrambled away when we got there,’’ Anderson said.
The women and babies were taken to another location after the homes were deemed unsafe for occupancy because structural walls had been breached.
US law automatically entitles children born on US soil to citizenship, and it is not illegal for pregnant women to visit the United States to give birth.
Women from other countries have long traveled to the United States legally on tourist or student visas and given birth, but this case is unusual in that it appears to involve an organized business, analysts said.
Some Republican lawmakers are seking to limit automatic citizenship for children born in the United States.