China's "Born in the USA" Frenzy

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global - news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Economic Observer. When Liu Li boarded a plane for the United States, she had a little bit of makeup on, was wearing a loose dress, and had her hair up. She tried to hold her handbag in front of her belly in a natural way, just as the middleman had taught her. She was trying to look as calm as any wealthy Chinese lady would look when travelling abroad. But Liu Li couldn’t help feeling terribly nervous: she was six months pregnant when she left for the United States, where she wanted to give birth to an American citizen. (See: “On the Cutting Edge [EM] China’s Extraordinary Buildings”) Liu Li knew that going through customs would be a lot easier than obtaining a U.S. visa. In order to obtain the tourist visa that enabled her to go to America for the delivery, she had to carefully choose her clothes, and spend a lot of time practicing her walking and interview techniques. She memorized a host of details about her hotel booking and about famous sight-seeing spots so as to convince the Embassy officer that she was just another Chinese woman going shopping in the States. It is time to change the anchor baby law.

is she pregnant with a girl that would be threatened with abortion?

I understand both those who want the law changed in this regard and those who are horrified at the idea. On the one hand, in a world where travel is so much easier and there is so much mixing of peoples, birthplace citizenship makes less sense and can obviously be greatly abused. On the other hand there is the old danger of people being born into an alien or even stateless status, foreigners in the place they were born and raised. If the law is changed, we need to be very careful about how we do it.

While I was studying in China, it was explained to me why this occurs so often:

You have probably heard of China’s “One Child Policy” that only allows many people to have one child (there are also many people who may have two or more). To get around these rules, some people choose to have their child in a foreign country like the United States because the child would notbe counted against them. That is, if the woman in the article is only allowed to have one child without penalty, she may go to the US, have her child there, and come home no problem because the child would be an American citizen.

In my own experience, many younger people in China are not satisfied with the One Child Policy and want to have two - a boy and a girl. There are lots of ways of having a second child without penalty, but not all of them are easy, or possible, for some.

I hadn’t thought much about this aspect of it. My post, and I suspect the OP’s, were more from an immigration to America standpoint.

It seems from the article that the woman was coached to appear as if she were wealthy which would imply that she was not. With all the money spent the trouble she and her child would have to endure in China, it would seem these are more acts of desperate middle-class persons rather than whimsical wealthy ones. More like their mothers are saving these children from China’s One Child Policy.

It’s interesting to wonder what these women’s intend for their “anchor” babies. Their children would experience hardships in China as non-citizens. They wouldn’t be able to travel except to the US and it actually costs a lot to support a child to the US. If they were actually wealthy, it would make more sense to have Chinese citizenship since they could travel more freely abroad. Seems like really desperate mothers to me.

Birth citizenship is in the Constitution, and like everything else in that document, should not be changed without grave reason. Grassroots reactions to a temporary problem of “anchor babies” are not, IMNAAHO, a sufficiently grave reason.

Getting rid of that would not be worth developing a permanent class of noncitizens, as countries without birth citizenship have seen for decades.

We should remember that only immigration keeps us from a falling population, like the rest of the Western bloc. And the economic growth everybody is pining for will NOT happen if the population starts to fall. How can less people buy more stuff?

Be careful what you wish for , everybody, you might get it.


I agree with Geddie’s point and think that people who note the few abuses and want to change our entire immigration system are essentially expressing knee jerk reactions… While a few Chinese or Korean women abuse our immigration system, the anchor baby laws are what keep us from having large unassimilated groups from growing in our major cities. The French in their mighty wisdom decided that citizenship citizenship would ultimately mean that those born in France might be permanent foreigners, and this has lead to the huge conflicts and segregation of Algerian/ Moroccan immigrants with in their society. Even if a few East Asians abuse our policy, I hardly think it is something to warrant much concern: East Asians immigrants have as a group have been incredibly critical members of their communities, and have become integral members of society. If anything, it would serve us greatly to open our borders more to people from these regions due to how much of a positive influence they are upon our society.

Lastly, I think that it is incredibly stupid how some people can go so far as to demonize the new crop of immigrants who have come from Mexico into the U.S. Do I think it is right it is right that many broke the law when they came here? No. But, I can’t but help see the positive influences that having a large group of immigrants (conservative catholic people nonetheless) who have come in and revitalized communities throughout the midwest.

Being born here is not the only qualification stated by the Constitution as a requirement of citizenship.
The Fourteenth Amendment states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The Civil Right Act of 1866 states:

“all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.”

Being simply born here is not enough. These people are obviously subject to jurisdiction of the government of China, and are therefore ineligible to be United States Citizens, even if they are born here. We appreciate the business though.

Nice to see you provide a judicial ruling that the Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided. Whether or not subject to jurisdiction means the country of the person’s origin or the United States still awaits the Court’s ruling. Until then, it’s all jaw-jaw.

My knowledge is somewhat limited but any foreign national in the United States is subject to our jurisdiction. The only exceptions are usually officers of a foreign government, i.e. diplomats. They possess diplomatic immunity and are not subject to our jurisdiction. We can’t prosecute them for crimes without the permission of their government. All other foreign nationals, whether here legally or illegally, are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. On the surface at least, the child of any such immigrant would meet the constitutional requirement for natural-born citizenship.

Also, someone please correct me if I am wrong, but jurisdiction ends where a country’s territory ends. A Chinese national outside of China is not ordinarily subject to the laws of China. Given the totalitarian nature of the Chinese government, I would not be surprised if China attempted to enforce otherwise but it doesn’t change the actual situation. As other posters have noted, a Chinese national can get around their country’s one child policy by going overseas for the birth. The Chinese government apparently feels such births are out of their jurisdiction and don’t penalize them.

People who travel hear with a simple passport with the reason of “shopping trip” are only subject to our jurisdiction while residing in this country. They are obviously making no attempt to relocate here or set up residence. They aren’t even applying for VISAs.

Um, not quite. What Rich said, and also bear in mind that anyone in the US is subject to US jurisdiction…while here such a child is certainly subject to US jurisdiction. This isn’t an immigration issue. They are having the child here and returning home so they can avoid being forced to abort and potentially sterilized as well. Isn’t that a good thing??

Yes they are if they’re Chinese. They aren’t eligible for visa waiver program and must have a visa first. That’s what the article meant about her having already done the hardest part: getting the visa, though admittedly it was a little confusingly worded.

Be that as it may, the Constitution does not distinguish between temporary and permanent jurisdiction. It only requires one to be subject to US jurisdiction.

Well of course it is a good thing. The issue I am taking, jsut looking at Constitutional law, is with these children being granted automatic US citizenship just for being born here. I would think that it would cause tremendous international issues if it were. If any of these children grow up to be “dissenters” against the totalitarian government of China, they can claim US citizenship and get the US involved in an international incident. I am sure that the Chinese government will have something to say about it.

Seems…unlikely. They cannot force the US to actually do anything any more than could I or you from here. I DO think there is an issue regarding divided loyalties among citizens, that’s something I would be concerned about. That issue is why governments traditionally don’t like dual citizenship as a rule.

Doesn’t matter. You are subject to the laws of a country (jurisdiction) as long as your physical body (as in habeas** corpus**) remains within the country’s square mileage. Length of intended stay is irrelevant, as our young hooligans who get arrested in other countries learn the hard way. Female pregnancy status is also irrelevant, and neither the Constitution nor any current law mentions it.

“Subject to the laws thereof” had a specific meaning. Foreign embassies are, by historical convention, the sovereign soil of the country operating them. A child born in an embassy in Washington is not born a US citizen, because the embassy is not subject to our jurisdiction.
(Likewise, the embassy’s personnel are not subject to our jurisdiction, and if a woman from a foreign embassy has a baby in USA, the child is not born a citizen, even if born outside the embassy premises.)

A country’s ships are also the sovereign “territory” of the country whose flag they fly. Someone born on a foreign ship tied up in a US port is likewise not born a citizen.

But as the law now stands, except for these specific cases, if you are bodily in USA, its jurisdiction applies to you, and if born here you are a citizen.


This is the way it’s been interpreted so far. There’ll be one heck of a constitutional fight if anyone tries to change that interpretation.

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