Chinese woman Dongyuan Li sentenced to 10 months over US birth tourism scheme
Her company is said to have helped more than 500 Chinese women deliver babies in California so they would receive American citizenship. Li expected to be released from custody because of time already served, but will now face deportation proceedings
A judge on Monday sentenced a woman to 10 months in prison for her role in a business that helped pregnant Chinese women travel to the United States to give birth to children who would automatically receive US citizenship.
US District Judge James Selna issued the sentence in Santa Ana, California, to Dongyuan Li, who wiped away tears with her hand several times during the hearing.
Selna said he expected her to be released from custody later on Monday because of time served.
Federal prosecutors opposed the sentence and said they believed Li should be sentenced to years in prison to deter others from helping women lie on visa applications and hide pregnancies in these so-called birth tourism schemes.
“I just think it sends the wrong message,” Charles Pell, the federal prosecutor, told the judge.
Li pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and visa fraud for running a birth tourism company in Southern California known as “You Win USA”.
Federal authorities said the company helped more than 500 Chinese women travel to the United States to deliver American babies, and that Li used a cluster of apartments in Irvine, California, to receive them.
Authorities said the company coached the women to lie on their visa applications and to hide their pregnancies when passing through customs in US airports.
Li was arrested this year following a years-long investigation into birth tourism schemes that charged Chinese travellers tens of thousands of dollars to deliver their babies in Southern California. Authorities said Li was a birth tourism customer and later got involved in running the business.
In a letter to the court, Li, a mother of four, said she has taken English and music lessons and read books and exercised daily while in custody.
“I am very sorry for the mistakes that I have made,” she wrote in the December 1 letter filed with the court. “I truly sincerely apologise for any harm that I have caused to the American society.”
Her lawyer, Thomas O’Brien, told reporters the sentence was fair as prosecutors only documented seven cases where travellers lied to engage in birth tourism. He said others stated on visa forms they were travelling for tourism or medical reasons.
Dan Showalter, supervisory special agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations in Los Angeles, said Li has a valid visa in the United States but following the sentencing immigration authorities will begin proceedings to deport her to China.
He said agents will continue to investigation birth tourism cases, noting this one was the first of its kind.
“I don’t think we’re going to let the sentence sway us from doing what we do,” he said.
“I am using the term “box tickers” to refer to employees who exist only or primarily to allow an organization to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing.”
― David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory