A day after the Trump administration launched the largest immigration raids in nearly a decade, federal agents stormed 20 "birth hotels" in California.
Chinese nationals use the so-called birth hotels in order to win citizenship for their children — in most situations, a child born in the United States or one of its territories will automatically receive American citizenship. Women often pay as much as $100,000 to get into one of the hotels.
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.
In the unprecedented federal sting operation, the feds raided 20 locations in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. They were looking for the masterminds of the operations, who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year off the scam. "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," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for Los Angeles, told NBC.
Chinese listing sites show several hundred birth hotels in California. In 2015, the State Department issued 2.3 million visas to Chinese tourists.
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.
Clients were counseled on what lies to tell to obtain a tourist visa; how to fly through Hawaii, Las Vegas or Korea to avoid suspicious immigration officers at Los Angeles International Airport; and how to disguise their pregnancy in transit, according to search warrant affidavit unsealed Tuesday.
The women get discounted rates at hospitals to deliver their babies. "More than 400 babies linked to the scheme were born at just one facility in a two-year period, investigators said," NBC reported. That costs the hospitals millions — costs borne by Americans in the form of higher charges.
On Wednesday, immigration agents swept into dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide, checking employees’ immigration status.
In the early morning raids, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hit more than 100 stores across the country, arresting 21 people.The raids were the largest since President Trump took office and expanded on the increased enforcement of existing laws. There has already been a 40% increase in deportation arrests since January 2016.
Derek Benner, a top ICE official, told the Associated Press that the operation was “the first of many” and “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers that don't comply with the law.
“This is what we’re gearing up for this year and what you’re going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters,” said Benner, acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, which oversees cases against employers.