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Millions of foreign tourists visit the United States every year, and a growing number return home with a brand new U.S. citizen in tow. Some Central and South American "fishing tours" may really be child sex rings. Thousands of legal immigrants, who do not permanently reside in the United States but give birth here, have given their children the gift of citizenship, which the U.S. grants to anyone born on its soil.
The number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Total births rose 5 percent in the same period. Among the foreigners who have given birth here, including international travelers passing through and foreign students studying at U.S. universities, are "birth tourists," women who travel to the United States with the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their child.
Catering to the women is a nascent industry of travel agencies and hotel chains seeking to profit from the business.
Most women stay for two months, Ballantine said, and they make medical arrangements on their own. "Guests arrange and pay for these by themselves," she said of hospital costs that can approach $30,000.
For those with the means to pay, it's a small price to give a child the full benefits of U.S. citizenship, including the ability to travel freely to and from the United States, easy access to a U.S. education and a chance to start a life here.