Yesterday the Los Angeles Times ran an article about “maternity hotels” in Southern California where expectant mothers from Chinese speaking regions go to give birth and recuperate. Why do they spend so much money to travel across the Pacific and give birth in a foreign country? The answer is simple. All children born within the territory of the United States are automatically US citizens, with all of the rights and privileges that citizenship entails.
Birth tourism in countries with automatically conferred birthright citizenship has been very controversial lately. In the US, the debate has largely been about Mexican “anchor babies,” the assumption being that pregnant undocumented women give birth in the US so that they have easier access to US citizenship. (Until this week, that has simply not been the case.) In Hong Kong, which confers Hong Kong permanent residency by birthright to children of Chinese citizens, the controversy has been framed as a space and capacity issue.
In all cases, the combination of birth tourism and birthright citizenship is controversial because it calls into question the meaning of citizenship itself. To most people, citizenship implies membership and belonging. A child who returned to China immediately after birth may have the status of US citizen, but is she a member of the American nation? Canadian commentators came up with the term “Canadians of convenience” to describe people who, in their view, have the status of Canadian citizen but do not fully see themselves as members of the Canadian nation:
Canada is not an international refuelling station. It’s not a place where you go to enjoy our stable government and strong economy only to stockpile your finances to in turn fuel your conflicts in a foreign government.