(NBC News) Southern California apartment complexes that doubled as “maternity hotels” for Chinese women who want made-in-America babies were raided early Tuesday, capping an unprecedented federal sting operation, officials said.
NBC News was on the scene as Homeland Security agents swept into The Carlyle, a luxury property in Irvine, California, which housed pregnant women and new moms who allegedly forked over $40,000 to $80,000 to give birth in the United States.
“I am doing this for the education of the next generation,” one of the women told NBC News.
None of the women were arrested; they are being treated as material witnesses, and paramedics were on hand in case any of them went into labor during the sweep.
Instead, the investigation was aimed at ringleaders who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars tax-free to help Chinese nationals obtain visas and then pamper them until they delivered in an American hospital at a discount, court papers show.
“It’s not necessarily illegal to come here to have the baby, but if you lie about your reasons for coming here, that’s visa fraud,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Los Angeles.
All told, the feds raided 20 locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties, targeting three competing birth tourism schemes, officials said. The suspected operators have not been charged but are being questioned.
The organizers who allegedly ran the Carlyle site, Chao Chen and Dong Li, used a website to drum up business, touting the benefits of a child with U.S. citizenship: 13 years of free education, low-cost college financial aid, less pollution, and a path for the entire family to emigrate when the child becomes an adult.
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