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China’s “Born In The USA” Frenzy

More and more well-off Chinese women are going to the United States to give birth to their children. But while an American passport can certainly be beneficial, it can also be more of a hassle than one might expect.

China’s “Born In The USA” Frenzy
Zhang Yan

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.

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.

The temptation of a "born in the USA" child

Giving birth to a child abroad is not a privilege reserved to the stars and the very wealthy. An increasing number of expectant middle-class parents also fancy giving their children passports that they can feel proud of. "The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank," the consultancy agent tells women such as Liu. When Chinese children are born in America, they automatically become U.S. citizens. Once they reach 21, their parents will be able to apply for green cards and emigrate.

Those who would prefer a closer destination can go to Hong Kong, whose passport gives access to more than 120 countries without the need of a visa. Advantages include the fact that children will receive bilingual education (which will give them a foothold in the international world), and the fact that they will also enjoy the preferential policies for going to Chinese universities.

After consulting quite a few agencies for expectant mothers, Liu Li chose a reputable one. Airplane tickets, fees for labor, pre- and post-delivery care cost her roughly 20,000. Since most airlines refuse to accept women passengers who are more than 32 weeks pregnant, Liu Li set off for America when she was six months pregnant and then checked into a Chinese birthing center in California.

After her arrival, Liu Li realized that the area was full of facilities set up for Chinese women like herself. On the limited occasions when Liu Li goes to the Punete Hill Mall near her birthing center – the facility limits walks outside its premises to three per week, each time for about three hours – Liu Li bumps into lots of pregnant Chinese women. Birthing centers such as Liu Li's, which are mostly situated in America's beautiful west coastal areas, operate without a business license, and try to be as discreet as possible. In April, a number of illegally converted maternity centers in Los Angeles were discovered and shut down, which makes Liu Li very nervous.

Incompatible nationalities

Going to the United States to give birth and taking a foreign born child back to China usually proves relatively easy. The difficult part starts only later, as Song Jingwen is starting to understand. Because her son has a U.S. passport, the law does not allow him to be registered in his mother's local area, which means that he will not be automatically admitted to Chinese schools. Song will have to register him as a foreigner, and pay an extra fee. His access to education and health care also faces a lot of constraints.

"Some parents obtain fake birth certificates for their children, or cheat the Chinese Embassy to get them Chinese passports. But then they can't get visas or go abroad," Song explains. She is still hesitating on what to do next. If Song gets her son a fake hukou (the Chinese registration system), which would make it easier for him to go to a local school, she fears that all the efforts she has made up to now could be in vain.

A few years ago, Zhao Yong easily obtained a Shanghai hukou for his American born child. "Every time we want to go to the States, we have to get the Hongkong-Macao permit to go though Chinese customs, go to Hong Kong, then fly to the United States and enter the country with the American passport," Zhao Yong says. "The trip is a little bit complicated, but if we fly directly from Shanghai to the States, we won't be able to hide the truth."

Under Chinese law, double nationality is prohibited. According to the American Embassy, once a child has obtained a Chinese hukou, he is considered to have given up his American nationality. The United States is not the only country with strict regulations. A child born in Hong Kong doesn't get the Hong Kong resident identity card right away, but has to go back to Hong Kong regularly – every year or two until he is 18 – in order to register as a "returned resident," and keep his nationality.

The so-called "citizen's welfare"

According to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution (ratified in 1868), anyone born in United States automatically becomes an American citizen and obtains access to public education, university loans, voting, and so on… Even so, if one does not work in America or pay taxes after the age of 15, one can only enjoy very limited access to U.S. welfare benefits. "The system doesn't totally exclude people who don't pay taxes here, but those who do not pay as much tax as Americans do cannot expect the same benefits. But each state has different regulations," says Mr. Yang, a Chinese born man who works in New Jersey and has a green card.

"Giving birth to a child in the States is a wonderful dream, but a very costly one too," Song Jingwen concludes. "People who choose to go down this path must know that they will not be paying only for birthing and post birthing care, but they will also be paying a lot more for the whole life."

(All names used in this article are pseudonyms)

Read the original article in Chinese.

Photo - jeansman

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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