Fiona He gave birth to her second child, a boy, on Jan. 24, 2015, at Pomona Valley Hospital in Southern California. The staff was friendly, the delivery uncomplicated, and the baby healthy. He, a citizen of China, left the hospital confident she had made the right decision to come to America to have her baby.
She’d arrived in November as a customer of USA Happy Baby, one of an increasing number of agencies that bring pregnant Chinese women to the States. Like most of them, Happy Baby is a deluxe service that ushers the women through the visa process and cares for them before and after delivery.
There are many reasons to have a baby in the U.S. The air is cleaner, the doctors generally are better, and pain medication is dispensed more readily. Couples can evade China’s one-child policy, because they don’t have to register the birth with local authorities. The main appeal of being a “birth tourist,” though, is that the newborn goes home with a U.S. passport. The 14th Amendment decrees that almost any child born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen; the only exception is a child born to diplomats. He and her husband paid USA Happy Baby $50,000 to have an American son. If they had to, she says, they’d have paid more.
After the birth, He observed yuezi, the traditional month of recovery for new mothers. She, her mother, and her 2-year-old daughter stayed in Rancho Cucamonga, a city about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Her apartment, in a complex with a pool, fitness center, and mountain views, was rented by USA Happy Baby. Her nanny was supplied by USA Happy Baby. She ate kidney soup and pork chops with green papaya prepared by a USA Happy Baby cook. She secured her son’s U.S. birth certificate, passport, and Social Security card with USA Happy Baby’s assistance.
He’s daughter was born in America as well. He and her husband, educated in Britain and from prosperous families, hoped to send their children to an international school in Shanghai that admits only foreign students. When the kids turn 21 they can petition for green cards for their parents, too.
It was all going well, until four men knocked on the door of He’s apartment on Feb. 23. They said they were fire department inspectors responding to a complaint about someone barbecuing on the balcony. She hadn’t been cooking outside. The men asked to see the adults’ identification. Then they asked the ages of her children. “I felt very weird then,” He says. “I wondered why they were asking me about my children when they came to ask about barbecue.” Afterward she called Phoebe Dong, who ran USA Happy Baby and lived nearby. “I said I didn’t feel safe. She said not to worry.” …