A Chinese national pleaded guilty to running an illegal "birth tourism" scheme in California, where she charged clients thousands of dollars to help them give birth in the United States in order to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children.
Dongyuan Li, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and one count of visa fraud. She is the first of 19 individuals charged in connection to three state-wide birth tourism schemes to plead guilty. The rest of the defendants are either fugitives or awaiting trial, a press release from the U.S. attorney's office stated.
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Li admitted to running a birth tourism company from 2013 until March 2015 called "You Win USA Vacation Services Corp," which helped pregnant foreign nationals travel to and stay in the United States until they gave birth. This would allow their children to receive birthright citizenship under U.S. law. Prosecutors said the women would pay $40,000 to $80,000 for the service, according to the L.A. Times.
The company advertised that it had assisted more than 500 foreign nationals to travel to the United States. The assistance involved securing apartments in California while advising customers to make false statements to U.S. customs officials, such as lying about the length of time and where the nationals were staying in the country.
Li also admitted to helping clients obtain flights from China to Hawaii because they thought it would be easier to pass through U.S. customs in that state before flying to California. Clients were also advised to conceal their pregnancies while passing through customs.
Li received more than $3 million in international wire transfers over the two-year timeframe, according to the release. She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Another indictment charged a Chinese former California resident with running a similar scheme through a company called "Star Baby Care," which advertised itself as the "number one designated maternity service to the pregnant mother from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan."
A third indictment charged two operators of a scheme that is alleged to have served Chinese officials as well as Chinese nationals, run through a company called "USA Happy Baby Inc."