Associated Press Debunks The ‘Birth Tourism’ Myth

Earlier this summer, when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested that he may try to amend the Constitution to deny the American-born children of undocumented immigrants citizenship, he argued that “[p]eople come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child. It’s called ‘drop and leave.'” Graham also claimed that there is a rampant problem of “birth tourism,” or pregnant women coming to the U.S. on tourist visas simply to have children who are automatically American-born citizens. Meanwhile, other lawmakers support changing the 14th amendment’s citizenship requirements because granting automatic citizenship “encourages” illegal immigration.

However, the Associated Press reports that, though it exists, the trend is “not as dramatic as some immigration opponents have claimed”:

Out of 340,000 babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States in 2008, 85 percent of the parents had been in the country for more than a year, and more than half for at least five years, Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer for Pew, told The Associated Press.

And immigration experts say it’s extraordinarily rare for immigrants to come to the U.S. just so they can have babies and get citizenship. In most cases, they come to the U.S. for economic reasons and better hospitals, and end up staying and raising families.

Watch ABC’s segment on “birth tourism”:

The Associated Press concedes that, “some pregnant Mexican women do come to the United States. In border cities like Nogales, women have been coming to the U.S. for decades to give birth.” However, the article explains that most of those women are seeking better medical care, not citizenship.

All in all, neither citizenship nor health care is what drives immigrants to the U.S. Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, who is quoted in the piece and has surveyed Mexican immigrants to the U.S. for 30 years, has explained in the past that “no one ever mentioned having kids in the U.S…what our work shows is that migrants come in response to labor demand in the U.S. and are motivated by economic problems at home.”

In fact, Massey suggests that tightened border security might be responsible for the number of pregnant, immigrant women giving birth in the U.S.: “They end up having babies in the United States because men can no longer circulate freely back and forth from homes in Mexico to jobs in the United States and husbands and wives quite understandably want to be together.”

Finally, if the 14th amendment really was driving undocumented immigrants to the U.S., sociologists note there would be a higher percentage of women of child-bearing age in the U.S. illegally compared to men of the same age. However, data shows just the opposite. Undocumented men significantly outnumber undocumented women.