A cottage industry of sorts is operating in Los Angeles County, and officials may be taking steps to shut it down. The Los Angeles Times reports that women from Asia are coming to the U.S. to give birth so that their children will be U.S. citizens. They pay thousands to stay in homes that have been illegally converted to boarding facilities.
Here’s how what is being called “maternity tourism” works. The booming industry is fueled by women from Asia who travel to the United States while pregnant. They live at boarding facilities for several months before giving birth, accumulating bills of as much as $20,000 by the time they return home with their American citizen babies.
The facilities are typically set up in single-family homes in quiet residential neighborhoods. They seem prevalent in the San Gabriel Valley. One site in Chino Hills was shut down after the city found it was housing 30 Chinese women. Authorities sued the owners claiming it had been illegally subdivided into 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms. There were complaints from neighbors about frequent comings and goings, and a massive sewage spill resulted from an overloaded septic tank.
Apparently, Los Angeles County residents are growing tired of these hotels in their neighborhoods. After seeing just 15 complaints filed over a span of the previous 5 years, the county Planning Department saw that number bloat to 60 complaints in the last month alone. And the county has determined that all but one of those 60 complaints came from neighborhoods where boardinghouses are not allowed.
A report, commissioned by the county Board of Supervisors, cites these incidents but does not specify locations, but officials familiar with the investigation say many of the complaints came from Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights. In general, facilities in the San Gabriel Valley cater to Chinese and Taiwanese mothers, while women from South Korea patronize maternity hotels in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
County authorities hope to step up enforcement by involving other agencies, such as the Health and Fire Departments. The practice is not, in itself, a violation of federal immigration laws, but local governments can crack down on the hotels for zoning or building code violations. And local lawmakers are looking at crafting a county ordinance addressing the maternity hotels, with the ultimate goal of shutting them all down.
In fact, inspectors from the county Planning Department have been working with their counterparts at Public Works and Child and Family Services doing follow-up inspection at the properties in question. And, several cases have been referred to the state tax board and Employment Development Department because of the possibility of tax evasion and fraud.
There are many difficulties to inspecting these illegal facilities. Often, occupants simply do not answer the door, and when they do, they claim to not speak English and will not allow inspectors to enter. To combat these difficulties the Planning Department hopes to to include a Mandarin or Cantonese translator on its inspection teams. And, if called to a reported maternity hotel, investigators from Child and Family Services will be looking for signs of child abuse or neglect.
These hotels do not display any signs, and with exteriors that are for the most part well-maintained the difficulty in proving that anything illegal is going on inside is compounded. As a result, county officials need to rely heavily on reports from witnesses who may suspect something is amiss.