CNMI Agencies Want To Hinder ‘Birth Tourism’

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Hospital security deposit, birth certificate price raise mulled

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 3, 2013) – Northern Marianas Gov. Eloy S. Inos said some 20 tourists were separately sent back home in recent months, not because they were pregnant but because they had "documentation problems." The CNMI is eyeing extra measures to curb "birth tourism" such as requiring a hospital security deposit or possibly raising the cost of a birth certificate from the current $20 to $50,000 for tourists.

"Birth tourism" refers to travel for the purpose of giving birth to an automatic U.S. citizen child in the CNMI or any U.S. area.

Inos made it clear, however, that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) or any agency cannot prevent any tourist from entering the CNMI because of pregnancy per se.

"CPB sent home about 20 in the last three to four months because of documentation problems. For example, they didn’t have any affidavit of support with them or a proof that they have financial means of supporting themselves while they’re here. Yes they were pregnant but, like I said, it’s not their pregnancy that was the reason for sending them back but their documentation issues," Inos told Saipan Tribune on Sunday’s Labor Day picnic at the Civic Center in Susupe.

Inos said if a tourist who is supposed to be in the CNMI for only up to 45 days, for example, gives birth at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. in a week or two of their supposed vacation, that raises questions not only for border control agents but also for the Commonwealth Health Center (CHC).

He said CHC has been having problems with tourists who give birth and then leave the hospital without paying their bills. These bills can easily rack up to thousands of dollars.

"The hospital is thinking about requiring tourists to have a security deposit. If they do not have acceptable health insurance, their travel agent or whoever brought them here may also be made to pay for that security deposit," the governor said.

Some stakeholders have also been trying to propose to the CNMI government to ratchet up the cost of birth certificates from the current $20 to as high as $50,000 for tourists who are either from visa waiver countries or are paroled into the CNMI, to deter them from giving birth here.

The governor said this proposal has not reached his office yet.

However, he said people who are determined to engage in birth tourism may not necessarily be deterred by a $50,000 birth certificate.

The constitutionality of this proposal, if it ever reaches his office, may also have to be reviewed, he said.

Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas separately said Sunday that he has not seen such a proposal and thus could not say whether it poses constitutional or legal issues.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) separately reiterated that denying entry to tourists simply because they are pregnant or suspected to be pregnant is "gender discrimination."

He said it is not easy to stop birth tourism, yet it is prompting concern from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is risking the U.S. visa waiver program for CNMI-bound Chinese and Russian tourists.

Tourists—who are supposed to be in the CNMI for only up to 45 days—from other Asian countries have also been giving birth on Saipan for an automatic U.S. citizen child.

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.

Inos said CBP has been "doing a good job" in detecting improper—or a lack of—documentation among tourists.

Just the same, the governor said he wants a stop to the so-called birth tourism in the CNMI but this can only be done through collaboration and vigilance among all stakeholders. Efforts include continued working relationship with airlines and travel agencies in their screening process.

Many airlines worldwide have policies against allowing women in advanced stages of pregnancy from boarding a plane.

Some tour agents and travel agencies have also been doing their part in ensuring the safety and security of tourists bound for the CNMI.

In August, for example, a tour leader told Saipan Tribune in a personal interview that she asked a pregnant woman back in Shanghai, China, to consider not boarding a chartered Sichuan Airlines plane bound for Saipan for her own safety and to avoid being questioned by CBP agents at the Saipan airport.

That tourist didn’t heed the tour agent’s advice, and was questioned and prevented from entering Saipan by CBP agents. At the time, however, it was not clear whether the woman also had some documentation problems that prompted CBP to stop her, and not only because she was pregnant.

Birth tourism is believed to have increased since 2009, when DHS exercised its parole authority to allow Chinese and Russian tourists to visit the CNMI for up to 45 days without requiring them to obtain a U.S. visa.

However, tourists from other Asian countries that are also exempt from securing a U.S. visa waiver have also been giving birth in the CNMI as tourists.

Since November 2009, the federal government—through DHS and its component units such as CBP—has taken over control of CNMI borders.

The CNMI has seen growth in its tourism arrivals—and its overall economy—buoyed partly by an easier access to Chinese and Russian tourists.

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