L.A. County cites 16 "maternity hotels"

LOS ANGELES Los Angeles County inspectors have cited 16 "maternity hotels" serving pregnant Asian women who stay until they can give birth to U.S. citizen babies.

The Los Angeles Times cites a report released Thursday that found the facilities didn't have major health violations, but said most, including one in Rowland Heights and another in Hacienda Heights, were cited for building and fire code violations.

The inspections were ordered by the county's Board of Supervisors in February after numerous public complaints following media reports of a busy maternity hotel in Chino Hills.

Birth tourism is permitted under immigration law as long as the mother has a valid tourist or business visa. But maternity hotels in the San Gabriel Valley east of L.A. typically operate out of single-family homes, in violation of zoning laws.

Maternity tourism catching on with Chinese mothers

As CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reported in January, any child born in the United States is automatically an American citizen, and Mexican mothers have for years crossed the border to give birth in the U.S. for that reason.

But in recent years, "maternity tourism" to the U.S. has caught on with mothers in China.

The parents of Ada Lin, then just four months old, agreed to speak to CBS News about why they chose to pay $27,000 to a Chinese agency with a website that advertises the advantages of giving birth in America. The agency helps arrange U.S. tourist visas, lodging, and medical care.

"I want her to live a happy life," her father told CBS News, back at home in China.

The practice does not violate federal immigration laws, and it gives Chinese parents the option down the road to have their American-born children attend U.S. universities, or live here.

Blackstone reported that one hilltop home in California was converted into a maternity hotel with 17 bedrooms. It was said to have housed as many as 30 pregnant Chinese women at a time. It apparently didn't break immigration laws, but local officials closed it down because it violated zoning and building codes.

The practice has raised increasing concerns from the local communities where the hotels spring up, leading to the complaints which spurred the L.A. County crackdown.

"When people think of the American dream, they're not thinking about birth tourism," Chino Hills resident Rossana Mitchell told CBS News. "They're thinking about people who come here, immigrate here, work hard, pay their taxes, become citizens and become Americans."