In the largest operation of its kind, the Obama administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided several Chinese “maternity tourism” services in California on Tuesday. Anti-immigration groups want the mothers prosecuted. Few media outlets, however, have explained the principal reason these illicit businesses exist for Chinese women: the country’s one-child policy.

Many Chinese women use American tourist visas to come to the United States to thwart the communist regime’s population control policy. First instituted in the 1970s, the one-child limit has led to a parade of horribles: forced abortions, compulsory sterilizations, gender-selective abortions, abandoned children, government corruption, and, most obviously, fewer productive people.

The rise of the Chinese middle class has enabled many more Chinese families to afford the trip to the United States to have a second child. One woman named Liou told the Los Angeles Times that she only came to the United States to “skirt China’s one-child policy” and will return to China after giving birth (the Times subsequently removed the quotes from its website, but they were also reported by USA Today here).

America is not alone in witnessing this influx of Chinese women. Canada has also seen a rise of agencies helping families circumvent the communist policy. “If I’m a single child, and my husband is too, the policy says we can have two kids, but my husband has a brother,” one woman told Canada TV. “Two children can play together,” she said, telling the station that she “always envied people with brothers and sisters.”

For this woman, like many Chinese, having a second child in China may not only mean a massive $32,000 penalty and the loss of her job within a state-owned industry, but often forced sterilization. Because children born outside China are not counted against the policy, tourist visas often provide the only avenue for women to lawfully have multiple children. Editorials in papers not controlled by the state lament the lost spending by wealthy parents who travel to the United States due to the child restriction.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 10.52.28 PM

Nor is the phenomenon unique to locations with birthright citizenship, like Canada and the United States. In fact, Hong Kong saw nearly three and half times as many births to mainland Chinese women as the United States in 2012 (the most recent year for which numbers are available), 34,000 to roughly 10,000 in the U.S. In 2011, the Hong Kong number was 41,000. For context, this was about half of all births in the city that year. A Shanghai reporter sums up the situation:

American journalists continue to generate stories about birth tourists from China, most often explaining them as seekers of the American dream. They rarely touch on what the Chinese people, and their media, know is a leading cause of the phenomenon: an attempt to evade the Chinese government’s population controls.

The Obama administration’s crackdown still may not be entirely wrongheaded. So far it appears that only the businesses have been targeted, not the women themselves (“They’re being treated as material witnesses,” says ICE), and the federal government alleges that the agencies that were raided may have evaded taxes, laundered money, defrauded clients, and ripped off hospitals for thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills.

Anti-immigration groups, however, want the government to go further and prosecute the mothers themselves. “It’s a good start,” Jon Feere of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) told the New York Times. “But if the government isn’t going to prosecute the actual birth tourists [mothers], or prevent the issuance of passports to the babies, this may not have much effect.” CIS analyst Jessica Vaughn told Fox News that the women were acting solely for their own “economic self-interests or potentially more nefarious purposes.”

The fact that CIS advocates this position is not surprising given that its anti-immigration position (and the position of its two sister organizations, NumbersUSA and FAIR) is actually based on population control concerns. John Tanton, the radical environmentalist who founded all three organizations, is also a strong advocate of coercive population control methods, and FAIR’s President Dan Stein calls the one-child policy an “international family planning program.”

Any move by the United States to prosecute these mothers would constitute direct support for China’s one-child policy. Conservative policymakers should ignore these anti-conservative voices and look to the Cold War era when the United States combatted communist oppression with a more open immigration policy for people fleeing its control. We should reform the law to make it easier for desperate people to escape. Prosecuting these women would aid the enemies of freedom, result in more abortions, and stamp out the joy of new life for many Chinese mothers.

Photo credit