The Facebook post advertised a torturous offer for pregnant women in Turkey. “If you think your child should be born in the United States and be an American citizen,” the ad wrote in Turkish, “you’re in the right place.”
The women received transportation, medical care and accommodation in a so-called maternity hospital in Long Island for $ 7,500 to $ 10,000 each, federal prosecutors said, allowing them to travel to New York on tourist visas and return to Turkey with babies. who were American citizens.
On Wednesday, prosecutors indicted six people for conducting a “maternity tourism” operation in Long Island that has facilitated the birth of an estimated 119 babies among Turkish women for at least 119 years.
The cost of births was fraudulently billed to the state, resulting in the New York Medicaid program losing more than $ 2.1 million, prosecutors said.
“The defendants redeemed the desire for first-born citizenship, and U.S. taxpayers ended up stuck in a $ 2.1 million bill,” said Seth DuCharme, a U.S. lawyer in Brooklyn. “Today’s indictment confirms the principle that U.S. citizenship is not for sale, and our supply programs are not piggy banks to plunder criminals.”
In total, the defendants received about $ 750,000 in salary from pregnant women, prosecutors said.
Birth tourism is a long-standing phenomenon. In recent years, it has mostly attracted affluent mothers from China, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Nigeria to the United States for first-born citizenship. A 2018 case involving the stabbing of three babies at a maternity center in Queens revealed a risk of unregulated practice.
Earlier this year, the State Department gave more power to visa officers to prevent pregnant women from visiting the United States if women are suspected of traveling to give birth. The new rule described childbirth as an “impermissible basis” for a visit to the United States.
Once U.S. citizens are 21 years old, they can support a parent for a green card.
The State Department estimates that thousands of babies are born each year from tourists from abroad, but there is no official figure. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were approximately 3.8 million births in the United States in 2018.
Defendants on Wednesday were charged with a conspiracy of fraud and a conspiracy to launder money. Four of them are Turkish citizens who are accused of promoting the system and facilitating the accommodation and transportation of women. The other two are U.S. citizens who are suspected of helping with fraudulent Medicaid claims.
The mothers were not prosecuted and were not the target of the investigation. Prosecutors say children are unlikely to lose their U.S. citizenship.
The Long Island federal investigation, which took more than a year, included surveillance photos, wiretapped conversations, permission to search iCloud accounts, and even a secret agent.
In a conversation recorded in May 2019, Ibrahim Aksakal, the accused head of the regime, said women should apply for a tourist visa before pregnancy becomes “obvious,” prosecutors said. He then spoke to a secret homeland security employee who reported as the spouse of a pregnant Turkish woman.
Mr Aksakal’s lawyer refused to comment.
An unnamed conspirator told the secret employee that the women must arrive no later than the 34th week of pregnancy, prosecutors said.
The investigation began when local police received a hint that a group of Turkish women with the same address had given birth at about the same time. Investigators eventually found seven maternity homes across Long Island where the women were staying.
One pregnant woman who applied for a visa in October 2019 said she was traveling to the United States for tourism and would be staying at a hotel in Manhattan. Prosecutors say he actually stayed in a house in West Babylon, Long Island. She left the United States in April after applying for a U.S. passport on behalf of her child.
Prosecutors said the defendants filed dozens of false Medicaid applications to cover pre-pregnancy and transportation costs, concealing the immigration status of women, claiming to be permanent residents of Long Island with no income.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr DuCharme said some women actually “have significant assets”.
Christopher Lau, a senior official in homeland security investigations, said at a press conference that birth tourism providers often act as unlicensed health care providers and put pregnant women and babies in a dangerous position.
China has historically been the largest market for the birth tourism industry.
Last year, Los Angeles federal prosecutors prosecuted 19 people who had been involved in birth-tourism programs for Chinese clients in southern California. One company charged couples $ 100,000 for a package that included housing, nanny and shopping trips to Gucci.