Airlines Are Being Pressured To Deny Boarding To Pregnant Women Coming To The U.S.

Airlines don’t want you to give birth on the plane, so they have special policies for pregnant women approaching their due date. It’s common, for instance, to require a doctor’s note for travel within four weeks of the woman’s due date stating that she’s fit to fly.

However immigration attorney Brad Bernstein says that airlines have been told not to allow non-resident women who are “heavily pregnant” to fly to the United States because there’s a risk they’ll give birth here.

  • It’s legal for a foreign woman to give birth in the United States
  • If she’s coming here for the purpose of giving birth that’s illegal
  • However the child still becomes a citizen, and allows for priority in their eventually sponsoring relatives to come to the U.S. as well.

Enilria is not surprised, noting that birth tourism has been common in the past “and was known as a common source of passengers on routes such as Moscow to Miami.”

Airlines are pressured to deny boarding to foreign pregnant women because:

  1. CBP has discretion to deny entry to women they believe are entering in order to give birth
  2. And airlines bear the cost of deporting women denied entry to the United States.

These costs and potential fines mean that airlines use their discretion to simply turn away passengers they deem to have risk of inadmissibility.

It’s under-appreciated just how anti-immigration the Biden administration is, rhetoric of its critics notwithstanding. For instance, while ‘building a wall’ was roundly criticized in many circles during the Trump administration it gets little attention that the Biden administration has continued to do it. Immigration is broadly unpopular, we’re heading into an election and the median voter theorem trumps ideology.

At the same time, the bureaucracy itself behaves independently of the administration, and treats arriving passengers differently at each port of entry. Immigration and customs develops a different culture and reputation at different airports. While you’d hope they would apply standards and procedures from their handbook uniformly, there’s a difference between de facto practice and de jure rules.

People learn procedures by watching other people, and by discussing how to go about doing their jobs with colleagues. In other words, customs and immigration procedures are carried out by people.

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

When I used to manage immigration for scholars at work our (very high end) immigration counsel used to recommend that Canadians coming to the U.S. for employment never enter the country through the Toronto airport. U.S. authorities there simply took a tougher stance questioning employees.

Twenty years ago Portland airport became known as ‘Deportland’. Asian travel agencies used to advise their customers not to fly to the U.S. via Portland. That contributed to Delta dropping Portland – Taipei and Portland – Seoul although it was never clear to me that was the primary reason those flights didn’t work. At the time Portland airport’s deportation rates were materially higher than other West Coast gateways.

I don’t have the latest comprehensive sense of airport cultures. I’m a white male U.S. citizen with Global Entry so my own personal experience offers little guidance here, and my own personal experience wouldn’t likely be enough data points in any case — although I can certainly observe what’s going on around me.

For instance I’ve noticed in Tokyo that it’s inadvisable to stand in a customs line to exit the airport behind Indians and South Asians. They will invariably get much more extensive questioning and searches that Japanese and Caucasian travelers.

If I were from Latin America my approach would be to fly through Miami. Even if border officials there were racist I’d largely blend in with other travelers rather than standing out. The odds that racism would cause them to treat that passenger differently than other passengers seems reduced. Similarly I’d think I would prefer to enter the U.S. via Honolulu as an Asian passenger or at least San Francisco.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “However the child still becomes a citizen, and allows for priority in their eventually sponsoring relatives to come to the U.S. as well.”

    The child can’t sponsor anyone until the child turns 21.

  2. We should absolutely change that law. (birthright citizenship) Being born here should not grant citizenship unless one of your parents is already a citizen. Would solve a lot of problems and really seems like common sense.

  3. Since fares are lower farther out from Tavel date, women are now forced to decide if she wants a higher fare in case she gets pregnant. If airlines want to protect from this delivering in the USA, women should get Lowe rates the closer to travel dates. You can’t have it both ways government/airlines. Another case of men wanting to put women back in the 50’s.

  4. “If I were from Latin America my approach would be to fly through Miami. Even if border officials there were racist I’d largely blend in with other travelers rather than standing out.”

    Really Gary? Even if they were racist? Where did that come from your white global entry guilt? Most CBP officials in South Florida are of Latin American background… they are charged with with identifying those that are attempting to gain entry for reasons other than what they claim… nothing racist about that!

  5. We have a wide open border courtesy of the Biden Administration. HR2 would help. It has been sitting on Chuck Schumer’s desk for a year.

  6. @Nick
    There is no law granting birthright citizenship. It’s assumed that it’s covered under the 14th amendment, even though the discussion, when it was passed, said it would not apply to foreign citizens. It was clear during the discussions it was passed to cover the children of slaves, who did not have birth certificates. A liberal justice added a footnote to a decision in the 1980s. It has never been tested in the Supreme Court. and that is what needs to happen. There are birth hospitals set up in houses in California for the Chinese. A few of them have been raided, but not nearly enough.

  7. We should have an American Union (AU) that allows borderless travel across N & S Americas, like the EU. Eventually, the world (WU).

  8. Nick, birthright citizenship is in the 14th Amendment, it isn’t a law and cannot be changed by Congress. (It was originally put in to override Dred Scott and has never been questioned by federal courts.) Now it could be changed if the Constitution was amended. This requires 2/3rds of both the House and the Senate and 3/4 of the states. Maybe the wording should be altered (and certainly to clarify that corporations are not “people”) but it is extremely difficult to pass amendments.

    So far as immigration people goes, while ICE gets the publicity my own opinion on what needs to be controlled is CBP (Customs and Border Protection). They have jurisdiction 100 miles inland, which includes the sea coasts and Great Lakes–in other words, about 2/3rds of all Americans–that is too much power for such a federal police.

  9. There is a huge birthright citizenship healthcare industry in S. Florida. The irony, of course, is that these people are legally paying for these services – you have to in order to be seen by doctors and hospitals – while other people waltz across the southern border, give birth and are given access to social and healthcare services in at least some states.

  10. For a long time it was seen that entering thru Miami was more problematic than say New York. At least thru the 90s, even 2000s. There was a view that there were stronger ties to Florida than other parts of the US for illegal immigration and agent’s questioning was tougher.

    Re birthright citizenship. and as a permanent resident, I agree that the law needs to be changed. @Nick, I do feel, however, that citizenship should be granted to anyone giving birth and holding certain types of visa (i.e. work, investors, students in certain type of programs like PhDs) to not discourage qualified migration. I believe countries like Australia have these type of rules.

  11. How are airlines being told not to allow these women into the country as alleged by Brad Bernstein? Is there documentation of this?
    I think Gary’s comments about the airlines not wanting to get stuck with the return flight make sense, but that is quite different.

  12. SCOTUS clarifies Amendments all the time. Probably the 1st and 4th the most. I’ve read the discussion around the 14th and it’s clear it was passed to clear up issues around slavery. It was never intended for a foreigner to walk across the border and drop a jackpot baby.

  13. Half the population of the Bahamas (well the rich half) has US citizenship this way.
    Its the only way to assure their kids futures, and the ability to leave the banana republic Bahamas is.

  14. Get rid of birthright citizenship and this issue goes away overnight. It’s an outdated legal concept to begin with that has become counterproductive.

  15. How “anti-immigration the Biden administration is”???
    This administration is extremely pro-immigration in the worst way. Funding NGO’s to get as many foreigners to our southern border as possible; providing free legal services; flying 400,000+ immigrants from central America directly to the interior of the United States; a near 400% increase in border crossings; tying up the border patrol with paperwork instead of patrolling the border; etc
    Fifteen million + immigrants and we know nothing about a large percentage of them.
    This is anti-immigration?

  16. I have taken care of several infants who were born on a plane or delivered right after they arrived. Two from China, one from Thailand…both when I worked in AK, and several from South America when I worked in Florida. Where I live now, it seems to be wealthy Egyptians who come in for delivery.

  17. @AngryFlier:
    Your “nom de plume” seems to say it all, and while I think that “birthright citizenship” might need some tweaking/refining, the overly cavalier approach you propose, i.e., “Get rid of birthright citizenship and this issue goes away overnight,” just replaces one set of challenges with another set of problems…to say nothing about humanity and justice.

  18. To be clear, here are the exact relevant words in the 14th Amendment: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

    It couldn’t be more clear. To change it would require a constitutional amendment.

  19. @Jerry329
    Read the discussion of the legislators around the 14th amendment. It was clear they were addressing the issue of descendants of slavery. Even United States vs. Wong Kim Ark dealt with permanent residence. At no point in the discussion did they intend for illegal aliens children to get citizenship? The question was even asked during debate. The issue needs to go before SCOTUS.

  20. Get a clue. They are working on the wall only it was required by law and Congress refused to change it. .

    He was required by law to continue certain wall construction because Congress appropriated money for it. That appropriation occurred in 2019, before Biden took office.

    “I tried to get to them to reappropriate it, to redirect that money,” he said. “They didn’t. They wouldn’t. And in the meantime, there’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated. I can’t stop that.”

  21. For the 14th amendment: SCOTUS has already weighed in. The Wong Kim Ark case back in 1898.

  22. People underestimate how ethnic minorities working in border control roles can get responsible for some of the most racist and sexist approaches toward other ethnic minorities seeking entry — and that included even ethnic minorities of the same or geographically close background in terms of ethnic origins as the person working a government immigration control function.

    MIA CBP is one of the worst airports of entry from Latin America and some parts of the Caribbean when the adult US citizen traveler returning to the US is an ethnic minority traveling alone. Drug paranoia in action — and its paranoia when the suspicion hits innocent persons for literally no good reason.

    In years past, the suggestion to some Asian-Americans traveling to the UK was to try to avoid female Asian Brits working at UK passport control. Why? Because they were more likely to have a chip on their shoulder and act on their prejudices against other Asians.

  23. @canuck_in_ca
    The Wong Kim Ark case involved Chinese that were permanent residents. In fact, that was the main argument of the case. It didn’t address illegal aliens walking across the border and dropping an anchor baby or foreigners flying in, having a baby and returning home until the child gets old enough to return for benefits for them and their extended family.

  24. @H2oman – there were no immigration restrictions at the time the 14th Amendment was passed, so of course there was debate on whether illegal immigrants’ children would be covered, as there was no such thing until the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which wasn’t our proudest moment as a country.

  25. @John H
    There weren’t a lot of things in the 19th century. There wasn’t the concern of pregnant illegal aliens flying in to the US. But the discussion around the 14th amendment made it clear they were addressing slaves and children of slaves. It’s past time to clarify, just has been done with the 1st and 4th amendments.

  26. Good. These airlines should take an active part in holding up law and order.

  27. Funny how old laws need cleaning up in some cases, but in others we need to stick to originalism.

  28. @ H2oman, Whether the parents were permanent residents or otherwise didn’t matter, their assessment was that it applies to anyone born in the U.S. who is subject to U.S. legal jurisdiction, which is everyone in the country excluding those with diplomatic status or immunity. “Subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is the only qualifier in the amendment the only potential abridgment to birthright citizenship allowable under the current 14th Amendment. It doesn’t matter how the parents entered the country if they’re subject to U.S. jurisdiction, which every nonresident is while in U.S. territory unless they have diplomatic status.

  29. End birthright citizenship. If the mother has no legal residency, the child should not either. Short of that, pregnant women whose expectancy dates fall within their planned travel period should not be allowed to fly.

  30. I’m honestly surprised how many folks in the comments for a travel blog are opposed to jus soli. Last one in, shut the door! @John H is absolutely correct — there wasn’t even a debate about immigrants, because both immigration and naturalization was absurdly easy. No visas, no passports. I know am shouting into the void here, but have any of the anti-jus-soli folks considered how intensely complicated it would become to do basic stuff like get a passport or register to vote? Currently, the only thing you need to prove citizenship is a birth certificate. Once you require proof that a parent was also a citizen, a passport application will be just as complicated as a CRBA. The only practical solution would be to create a new national citizens’ registry (this is, in fact, how things work in the countries that follow jus sanguinis). Right now, only aliens are legally required to register with the government — do you really want to require that every man, woman, and child register their personal family details with a federal bureaucracy in order to simply exist legally in the country? I mean, I thought you folks were part of the political right!

  31. @sosongblue

    More employees speak English at the airport in Punta Cana DR and Cancun MX than at Miami airport.

    Those airports specifically hire English speakers to accommodate tourism. Miami airport hires cheapest labor they can find and it was shocking to find AA employees that no habla ingles

  32. @ Bonnie

    Wealthy Egyptians sure

    Wealthy South Americans too. I have family from wife’s side in Ecuador, Brazil, Columbia and Argentina

    The rich members of the family. Every one of their kids was born in Miami. Every single one. and they brag about it. My son/daughter is an American and they all go to college here

  33. @Mets fan in NC

    Agreed ….and? What’s your point beyond reinforcing mine?

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