How Our Immigration Policies Hurt Families–and All of Us


This article is one in a series on immigrant rights and attacks against immigrants being published by RH Reality Check in partnership with the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights.  See all articles in this series here.

On March 24th, the Associated Press broke a story about the discovery of a maternity ward for women from China being operated in the San Gabriel Valley in California. The AP article described the upscale, luxury townhomes, part of a quiet residential condo development, that had been converted into a maternity ward for middle- and upper-income Chinese women to deliver American-born children in the hopes that U.S. citizenship would provide greater opportunities for their children within China. However, subsequent articles painted a different, more nefarious picture about a seedy Chinese American man being fined for running an illegal business[1] (rather than for building code violations for removing some interior walls to create separate living quarters for the women), converted kitchens crammed with bassinets, pamphlets and baby formula, and neighbors complaining of the scent of “cheap canola oil” in the air.[2]

This story has had additional leverage in helping anti-immigrant advocates assert a new “baby boom” among “millions” of “birth tourists” who come to the US in order to have themselves an American baby.[3] Although the statistics indicate that less than one percent of all births in the US are to foreigners visiting on tourist visas, that didn’t stop Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) from making claims of a long-term plot by pregnant foreign women to hatch “terror babies” so that “one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.”[4]

Really? As absurd as this sounds, this leap from reality is being used to justify harsh anti-immigrant policies that have had devastating and dangerous impacts on the lives of immigrant mothers and their children. As immigration debates have increasingly cast immigrant women as “unfit” and “undesirable,” reproductive rights and the ability of immigrant women to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families has been increasingly undermined. Attacks on the 14th Amendment and efforts to strip the right to citizenship from American-born children of immigrant mothers are just the most glaring examples of efforts to restrict the reproductive rights of immigrant women and control the growth of non-White families.

Let’s be clear. U.S. Immigration policy was launched on efforts to curb the formation of immigrant families. The very first immigration law ever created was based on fears that Chinese immigrants, people who were so “alien” to Anglo-Saxons that they were “ineligible for citizenship,” might start families. As a result, Chinese women were recast as “unfit,” “undesirable” and criminal. The Page Act of 1875 recast Chinese women as prostitutes in order to justify prohibiting them from immigrating to the US.[5] The reality is that this, and other immigration policies, are steeped in conflicting push-pull desires to control the demographics of the US population while attracting a skilled and unskilled labor force.

The current rapid demographic shifts have only increased the fear and hysteria about the immigrants among us. The “maternity tourist” story heightens the historic perspective of Asian and Pacific Islander women as perpetual foreigners who continue to breed ever more children to challenge U.S. dominance academically, economically, and increasingly, on the world political stage. Meanwhile, Latina women living in the United States, those “illegal alien invaders,” are the breeders of an ever-growing wave of brown babies that will change the very face of America. As a result, immigrant mothers are being caught in the quagmire of unjust immigration policies that weaken our economy, threaten the safety of our communities, and undermine American values.

The National Coalition of Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR), a coalition of more than 40 reproductive justice organizations and ally organizations that oppose these attempts to restrict the reproductive freedom and decision-making of immigrant women. We believe that like all women in our society, immigrant women deserve equality, dignity, and human rights and that strong families are the foundation of successful communities.

Last month NCIWR reached out to other movement leaders to host a roundtable discussion that looked at the wide range of immigrant policy and the impacts on families and communities.

Among the core issues are forced separation of parents from their American-born children, wholesale detention and deportation of the breadwinners and heads of household of immigrant families, and increasing fear of law enforcement. All of these serve to weaken our communities.

Join NCIWR  to oppose these policies and start helping now! You can take action by sharing your story, joining the NCIWR campaign, and pushing back against efforts to dehumanize immigrant women.

Immigrant mothers are the backbone of our society. Immigrant women come to this country to work, to escape poverty, to join family already here. Immigrant mothers make monumental, daily sacrifices to build a better future for themselves and their children. Punishing them, out of fear that the economic, social, and political contributions and innovations that they and their children will make in this country, serves only to hurt us all. We must focus on the American values of family, openness, equality, and opportunity for all. The vast majority of us are the result of America’s rich immigrant tradition, let us honor the immigrant mothers of our past and present by focusing on immigration policies that move this great country forward, not backward.


[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369657/Chinese-maternity-tourists-paid-35-000-babies-born-U-S.html

[2] ‘Birthing tourism’ center in San Gabriel shut down, March 25, 2011|By Ching-Ching Ni, Los Angeles Times http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/25/local/la-me-birthing-center-20110325

[3] http://mediamatters.org/research/201004160074

[4] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/06/28/texas-rep-warns-pregnant-women-sent-terrorist-babies/#ixzz1JyFGz7AR

[5] The Page Act of 1875: In the Name of Morality, Ming M. Zhu, March 23, 2010 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1577213

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