NPR logo Influx Of U.S. 'Birth Tourists' More Trickle Than Flood

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Influx Of U.S. 'Birth Tourists' More Trickle Than Flood

A colleague e-mailed me an ABC News story that seemed to report a trend that no doubt many Americans would find alarming:

Millions of foreign tourists visit the United States every year, and a growing number return home with a brand new U.S. citizen in tow.

Thousands of legal immigrants, who do not permanently reside in the United States but give birth here, have given their children the gift of citizenship, which the U.S. grants to anyone born on its soil.

The number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Total births rose 5 percent in the same period.

Among the foreigners who have given birth here, including international travelers passing through and foreign students studying at U.S. universities, are "birth tourists," women who travel to the United States with the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their child.

Catering to the women is a nascent industry of travel agencies and hotel chains seeking to profit from the business.

Wow, what a story! my colleague and I agreed. The thought of thousands of pregnant foreigners visiting the U.S. with an eye towards giving their newborns U.S. citizenship was really something. Until we looked at the actual data in the story.

Of the 4,273,225 live births in the United States in 2006, the most recent data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics, 7,670 were children born to mothers who said they do not live here.

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Wait, that's less than two-tenths of one percent. So we're talking about a fairly minuscule number. But wait, there's more:

Many, but not all, of those mothers could be "birth tourists," experts say, although it is difficult to know for sure. The government does not track the reasons non-resident mothers are in the United States at the time of the birth or their citizenship, meaning births to illegal immigrants who live in the United States are counted in the overall total.

So the number of possible "birth tourists" is even a smaller subset of what was already a pretty paltry number.

Much less dramatic an issue when looked at that way, no?