Hong Kong's Birthright Citizenship Problem

A lesson for the U.S.?

Hong_Kong_at_night_from_Victoria_PeakThis past month’s media coverage of the protests in Hong Kong omits an important source of tension between the miniscule territory and its huge northern neighbor: Birthright Citizenship. Like the US, Hong Kong is one of the few areas of the world that has some form of this rather nonsensical practice. I worked in Hong Kong for 7 years and I know from friends and colleagues there that the explosion of anger over the past several weeks includes not only the recent political meddling from Beijing but also serious social and cultural tensions related in part to Hong Kong’s immigration policy vis a vis the mainland Chinese.

Under current law, any mainland Chinese can secure permanent residence for their children in Hong Kong if they simply cross the border and give birth within the territory. As a result, those from the mainland, but born in Hong Kong, become entitled to receive generous future welfare benefits, attend superior local schools and travel internationally with much greater ease. This along with the swarm of mainland Chinese that now frequently move and travel to Hong Kong, bringing alien habits with them like spitting and eating in public, has earned them the title of “locusts” by many of Hong Kong’s citizens.

“Birth tourism” from the mainland took off following a decision from Hong Kong’s highest court in 2002 that interpreted the “right to abode”-clause in the territory’s constitution to award permanent residency status to Hong Kong-born children of non-resident mainland Chinese. Soon after the decision, Hong Kong’s hospitals (some of the best in the world) became flooded with “birth tourists” from the mainland. By 2012, one in every three births in the territory was going to mainland Chinese parents – While I lived there (2005-2012), one short-term rental apartment block in my neighborhood was usually almost completely taken up by pregnant mainland wives waiting to give birth – Usually resilient Hong Kongese snapped and protested that the abuse from the northern Chinese not only strained medical resources but also endangered the lives of the other Hong Kong patients.

The practice was finally curbed (but not completely halted) when Hong Kong hospitals became so stretched that doctors, medical staff and taxpayers organized in the streets and forced the government to make mainland mothers prove they were married to Hong Kong men. That Hong Kong’s top-notch schools and nearly free medical care could end up being handed over to foreign “locusts” who contributed nothing to the system was too much to bear for the hardworking local citizens.

The tiny 7-million-person territory still deals with problems from Chinese birthright citizenship today. The presence of such a large neighbor across their borders – Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, alone has a population of almost 100 million people – ensures that pressure will stay constant. That the generally apolitical Hong Kong people took to the streets and continue to do so in order to push for social reforms and greater independence from China should provide a warning to our own politicians. In California, the state hardest hit by the effects of birthright citizenship and illegal immigration in general, costs related to unpaid medical bills from illegals is around $1.25 billion a year. Many hospitals there have been forced to cut and delay services and dozens have simply closed. As an obstetrician working close to the Texas border, former congressman Ron Paul often delivered “anchored babies” to illegal alien mothers, which he rightly saw as an affront to America’s sovereignty.

Now, illegal alien activists are agitating for Obamacare, which if (or when) granted could cover up to 1.8 million people; people who not only broke into our sovereign nation, but have done huge damage to our social security system and cultural fabric. Considering Mexico is one of the least healthy countries in the world, extending medical benefits to the (mostly Mexican) 1.8 million DACA recipients (not to mention the additional 8 million Obama has post-election plans for) will dramatically increase the costs of an already budget-breaking program. Like Hong Kong, whose early 2000’s SARs-epidemic came from the mainland, we’re also seeing Ebola being imported from one of the most rampant visa-violating nations in Africa and a host of deadly diseases arriving from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

Like the people of Hong Kong, the large majority of US citizens are against giving foreign people access to their welfare system. US politicians should beware: Take away the public assets from a nation’s rightful owners and you will get a mass reaction.

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