‘Birth Tourism’ Jeopardizes CNMI Waiver Program: Sablan

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‘Birth Tourism’ Jeopardizes CNMI Waiver Program: Sablan Visitors' babies being born in territory to gain US citizenship

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 9, 2013) – With Saipan becoming a destination of choice for pregnant foreign nationals who want to give birth to automatic U.S. citizen children, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said yesterday this so-called "birth tourism" needs to be discouraged to avoid risking the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ chance of getting a permanent U.S. visa waiver for Chinese and Russian tourists.

Sablan said that federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have also been concerned about birth tourism in the CNMI.

Under the visa waiver program, Chinese and Russian tourists can enter and stay in the CNMI for up to 45 days without a U.S. visa.

However, while the visa waiver program has tremendously helped the CNMI tourism industry prosper, it has also given some tourists, mostly Chinese, a way to give birth to automatic U.S. citizen children, as promoted by businesses based in China and the CNMI.

The United States is one of a few countries that observe jus soli, which grants automatic citizenship to children born within its territory, regardless of the parents’ nationality or citizenship.

In a news briefing in Susupe yesterday, Sablan said it is not easy to stop this so-called birth tourism.

Birth tourism is believed to have increased with the approval of a visa waiver program since 2009. However, there is no telling whether this visa waiver will become part of a final immigration rule.

Sablan said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not deny entry to Chinese women simply because they are suspected to be pregnant. That is gender discrimination, he said.

The birth tourism issue came up when Sablan was asked whether a change in DHS leadership, when Secretary Janet Napolitano steps down, could affect the visa waiver program for Chinese and Russian tourists bound for the CNMI.

"What concerns me more is the birth tourism business here… That kind of activity concerns me enough that it’s really like putting a gun in our mouth and pulling the trigger. We need to discourage that because that’s something that has federal agencies concerned," Sablan said.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos has also raised concern about the impact of birth tourism on the CNMI’s chances of securing a permanent visa waiver for its lucrative Chinese and Russian tourists.

Sablan and Inos earlier wrote a joint letter to DHS, calling for tighter border watch.

Businesses that cater to birth tourism have seen a boom—from health clinics to hotels, apartments, car rentals, translators, retail stores, and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

The delegate said the attempted entry of Chinese tourists or workers in the CNMI into Guam are also another concern.

Sablan said the CNMI would not want to give DHS a reason to stop the visa waiver program.

"I am very happy that Mr. Alejandro Mayorkas has been nominated to be deputy secretary. He understands our issues very well, more than many people think," the delegate added.

When asked whether he’s also concerned that the visa waiver program has also helped facilitate drug trafficking, Sablan said he has faith in the CNMI Customs Services Division under Director Joe Mafnas’ leadership.

As to other national security issues, Sablan said he cannot share information given to him in classified meetings.

"We’d like to see a final rule in the next several years that includes China and Russia," he added.

Immigration bill

Sablan, at the same time, said the national immigration reform bill with a CNMI-specific provision that the U.S. Senate passed does not cover the alien parents or families of so-called birth tourism children.

"If you look at the immigration language that we have proposed all along, there really is a reason as to the several timelines required and that is to not include families of birth tourism because that would never pass and it will hurt us more than it will help us," Sablan said.

Covered in the CNMI-specific provision of that U.S. Senate immigration bill are U.S. citizen children’s parents who have been in the CNMI legally since at least 2003.

"In the immigration legislation for the Northern Marianas, we went through extra pain to language that carefully so that a child born here, say five years ago, whose parents just came in, had a baby and left—the child is a U.S. citizen… and we have a process wherein he can petition his or her family but they’re not going to get that opportunity from the Northern Marianas legislation because they’re not the people we’re trying to help," the delegate added.

The U.S. House of Representatives is also considering its own national immigration reform bill and Sablan is confident that if it is a Gang of Seven-crafted bill, then it would also have the same CNMI-specific language that the U.S. Senate’s Gang of Eight included in S. 744.

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