Brian Williams’s ‘Rock Center’ Opens On Halloween With Fear, Not Fact

Our guest blogger is Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress

Brian Williams’s new show Rock Center debuted Monday night with a segment called “Born in the U.S.A.” focusing on the obscure yet provocative “birth tourism” practice whereby foreign women come to the United States for the express purpose of giving birth so that their children have American citizenship and then return after giving birth to their home country.

I appeared in the segment and was dismayed by reporter Kate Snow’s neglectful treatment of the subject by failing to provide facts and a fair framing of the issue and my views. To the credit of Kate Snow and her producer Anna Schecter, both contacted me yesterday and NBC has updated its website with a clearer representation of my views. Still, if you tuned in to the show on Monday, and thought you got the story on birth tourism, you did not. Here is what they failed to tell you: Let’s start with the facts: According to the most recent statistics, only 7,462 children out of the more than 4 million born in the United States in 2008 were born to people who do not reside here. Of this handful of births, (1/10th of 1 percent of all births,) many are here on legal visas like student or business visas. In the course of their studies or work in the U.S., they may get pregnant and have a baby. Some are tourists who do not intend to deliver in the U.S., but go into early labor. And yes, some, a small faction of the 7,000 annual births a year actually come to the U.S. simply to obtain citizenship for their children. I lost count the number of times I cited those statistics in the interview, but unfortunately the key facts ended up on the cutting room floor. Next, the report makes it seem as though one of the biggest selling points of birth tourism is that “it’s an easier way for the whole family to get green cards.” Hearing the story, one would think the green cards might come in the mail to the baby’s entire family days after the baby is born. The truth undercutting the scare is that children cannot sponsor their parents or siblings until they turn 21. It will still be over two decades before relatives can enter the United States because of that child’s status, and even then, the child has to prove, among other things, that he or she can financially support the family members among other requirements. A quick Google search of family immigration requirements would have informed the show’s producers of these basic facts or they could have asked me. What I did discuss in length was a range of ways the practice of birthright tourism could be dealt with, but the producers did not air any of my comments, making it seem as though the Center for American Progress is in favor of birth tourism — a position that neither my organization nor I hold. Again, the show failed to air my express understanding of why the issue matters to Americans and my range of approaches for addressing the concern. One option is to regulate the birthing centers. Though highly problematic at many levels, the United States could also scrutinize women of childbearing age applying for a visa and attempt to control or predict their propensity to give birth while in the U.S. –- not easy or wise to do in my view.

Finally, as Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) who was also interviewed suggests, we could change the U.S. Constitution and scrutinize the lineage of all women giving birth in the US before granting citizenship. This proposal seems like using a grenade to go after a gnat, but again, a conversation about what to do to solve the problem was given short shrift. Rock Center’s debut was far from rock solid — we can only hope it gets on course and offers more facts and less flash.