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Infant stabbing in Queens shines light on shadowy nurseries in so-called 'birth tourism' market

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 10/11/2018 Scarlett Kuang, ELIZABETH ELIZALDE , Nancy Dillon

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© Obtained by Daily News

A recent tragedy in Queens has raised new questions about the shadowy business of so-called “birth tourism.”

Last month, deranged daycare worker Yu Fen Wang, 52, stabbed three infants and two adults at a Flushing nursery catering to both local Chinese immigrants and, sources said, foreign moms in the country to give birth and obtain U.S. citizenship for their newborns.

In an exclusive interview at Rikers, a suicidal Wang apologized for the bloody rampage at Mei Xin Care on Sept. 20 and said she had an apparent psychotic break.

“I don't know why I did such a thing,” Wang told the Daily News, speaking in her native Mandarin. “At the moment, I thought they were not babies, but wolves.”

Wang has pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder.

Her ability to carry out such carnage put a bright spotlight on the types of nurseries that typically offer round-the-clock care to infants and new moms following the Chinese and Korean custom of a 30-day rest period after delivery.

The centers, which often market expensive packages to foreign moms on citizenship-seeking sojourns, remain an in-demand service around the metro area, a News investigation found.

Ads on Chinese social media promote the hashtag #USBirthTourism and a popular Chinese language website listed dozens of local businesses operating in the space with names such as “Golden Cradle” and “US Baby Care.”

When The News visited 11 of the sites over the last week, they appeared to have either shuttered or gone into hiding, possibly due to the heat from recent headlines.

One operator in New Jersey said some of her clients have indeed been Chinese women who travel to the U.S. for the sole purpose of giving birth.

The operator, who gave her name only as Ms. Liu, said she charges $7,500 for 30 days of service, including newborn care and cooking special meals for the new mother.

The foreign moms aren’t breaking any laws as long as they’re upfront about their intentions, gain a valid visa and have the money to cover their medical costs, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Liu, 56, said she’s been in the business eight years.

She used to have 10 employees but to avoid any legal risk, she now only provides her own one-woman service to well-heeled clients, she said.

“Everyone is trying to figure out how to do pregnancy care business here,” she told The News.

Liu said in China a “yue sao” – or 30-day after-birth care center – must have a special license to operate. But because the practice is so uniquely Chinese and Korean, there a regulation gap in the U.S.

She said providers in Flushing tend to offer the lowest prices, usually around $4,500 plus 20% tips.

Services provided to the Korean market generally run $7,500 to $8,500, she said.

One local politician agreed the industry needs more regulation.

“We’re trying to figure the gaps and loopholes and how these businesses fall into this grey area,” Assemblyman Ron Kim told The News.

He said it appeared Mei Xin Care’s customers were predominantly local residents. Either way, all the families who sign up for such services deserve protection — as do the people who staff the centers.

The way it stands now, such regulations is elusive.

“Even though these businesses are largely unlicensed, they’re not illegal,” he said.

Indeed, the only infraction Mei Xin Care has been cited for is a building code violation – operating as a commercial business in a residential location.

Because the parents lived on site during the infant care, the business did not require any daycare licensing.

“Right now we’re trying to figure out the best legislation to either crack down or license these businesses so the workers are properly vetted and their backgrounds captured,” Kim told The News.

Sources said some operators like to fly off the regulatory radar because they fear raids by federal immigration officials.

Back in 2015, ICE officials carried out 37 federal search warrants tied to “Chinese maternity houses” in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties in California.

The case led to felony visa fraud charges against at least one operator and the conviction of a California immigration lawyer.

In New York, industry players felt the pressure too.

“Most of the business stopped operating about three years ago because the government started to fine them,” a man who declined to give his name but said he used to own a center in the city told The News.

Still, the practice remains ongoing, though at a hard to ascertain rate.

The CDC keeps track of the number of babies born to foreign moms in the U.S. each year, but the figure doesn’t specify the number born to moms with valid visas.

According to the CDC, there were 9,254 babies born to foreign moms in 2017, less than 1% of the total 3,864,754 babies born last year.

A decade earlier, the number was 7,775 out of 4,324,008 births.

In the cases of Chinese moms who give birth while traveling on visas, the vast majority return to China with their U.S. citizen babies, experts said.

The birthright citizenship is considered a status symbol, sources told The News, giving the children the opportunity to travel more easily for schooling and business later in life.

“It’s clear that (these) Chinese nationals have the resources. They have the resources to come to the United States and to have a child here for the purposes of securing a future for either themselves or their child,” Prof. Tarry Hum, chair of Queens College's Department of Urban Studies, told The News.

“That says something about the conditions of China even for those who are in the middle class or who are affluent,” she said.

Hum said the stabbing incident in Queens is evidence the industry needs more supervision, so that people working at 24-hours nurseries are properly managed and supported.

“These workers are probably overworked and underpaid and they're taking care of children who are of a privileged class,” Hum said.

“I don't think that rationalizes any kind of violence, but it contextualizes maybe the extreme stress of workers but also a need for mental health services and intervention,” she said.

- With Catherina Gioino and Kerry Burke


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