Maternity centers where mothers from oversea deliver their babies in America and then return home
Inside a 700-square foot room, there is a double bed, a flat-screen television with cable, and a little terrace that overlooks a quiet residential street. It could easily be a bed and breakfast, but it's not.
It's a suite inside a maternity center in Flushing, Queens called Cupid's House -- a center that caters to so-called birth tourists -- women who travel to America to give birth and leave with their American babies.
"Many of them want American citizenship for their children," said Anna, the owner of Cupid's House. While she advertises on her website, USANYBABY.com, and in Chinese papers, she realizes how controversial her business has become.
"My clients get their own visas and as long as they can be here in the country legally, I let them reserve a room," she said. "Then we arrange a doctor for them, at a clinic that we partner with, and we also help them register at local hospitals. Because the women do not have insurance, they usually pay their doctors and the hospital in cash."
Women are encouraged to arrive at Cupid's House before their bellies protrude too much, which is usually about three months before their due date.
"Customs will not allow them to come in at that stage, so that's why they have to come as soon as possible before they are ready to give birth."
While customs agents do have discretion to turn away very pregnant women, pregnancy is not an immediate reason to deny someone a visa to visit or work in the country.
Most women spend at least four months at the center -- three before delivery and one month after their babies are born. The center helps women apply for birth certificates and then U.S. passports.
According to its website, room and board runs between $13,000 and $25,000. And hospital fees can cost between $8,000 and $11,000.
Anti-immigration groups say while this may be legal, it is an abuse of the 14th Amendment, which states that anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen. They are calling for changes to the current law, saying that children of foreigners are a drain on our social welfare system.
"It cheapens the value of citizenship, and in the end the parents have no attachment to the U.S.," said Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Why should we be giving a U.S. passport to their offspring who happened to be born here while their mother was visiting for a few weeks?"
But according to immigration attorney Emre Ozgu, many birth tourists are wealthy and contribute to the economy. Ozgu, who is Turkish-American, says wealthy families in Turkey have been birthing children in America for at least the past five years.
The Marmara Hotel on the Upper East Side, according to published reports, caters to affluent Turks by offering a birthing package that runs about $45,000.
Marmara Hotel did not return NBC New York's numerous calls for comment.
"People come here all the time for medical procedures because of the advanced medicine," said Ozgu. "If you're talking about the affluent, they are able to pay cash for doctors and hospitals, the hotels and the restaurants. They are just pumping money into the economy."
It's not clear just how many birth tourists visit America each year. According to federal statistics, in 2008, about 7,400 babies were born to foreign residents. But out of more than four million total births nationwide, that's less than 1 percent.
Some believe that number is conservative, however, and that it must be greater because of the industry that has arisen.
In March, a maternity center was shut down in San Gabriel, Calif., because officials say 12 people and 10 newborns were living inside an illegally converted townhouse. And on the Internet, there are numerous websites advertising maternity centers in New York City and on the West Coast.