Residents in a posh neighborhood that lines the Newcastle golf course knew there was something suspicious about two homes in the community.
“We noticed there were a lot of pregnant women around all the time, and we thought it was a little strange,” said Doug Wiviott about the home across the street from him on 155 Avenue SE.
What neighbors were seeing were the outward signs of what may be the first business of its kind detected in Washington state.
The KING 5 Investigators have uncovered two former “maternity houses” operated by a business registered as Fu Hua Enterprises, LLC.
Fu Hua provides what is sometimes called “birth tourism” services. Wealthy foreigners pay tens of thousands of dollars to the company to help arrange travel visas, medical services and luxurious lodging inside the Newcastle homes.
It’s legally questionable and very profitable, according to KING 5’s interviews with insiders and federal immigration officials – all of whom asked not to be identified in this story.
This industry owes its existence to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil.
It’s a hot topic in national politics this year. Last month, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush took heat for using the term “anchor baby” in remarks to the press, which he clarified later: “What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts—and frankly it is more related to Asian people—coming into the country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”
$45,000 for 3 months
“(There was) …at least one woman, sometimes four,” said Jung, the former house manager for Fu Hua Enterprises. He says the house was staffed to accommodate up to four expectant mothers at any one time.
Jung asked that we not reveal his real name. The KING 5 Investigators found his name on business records filed with the state.
Jung said his job was to cater to the women by picking them up from the airport, taking them shopping and to medical appointments.
“We charge about $45,000 for three months,” Jung said in an interview with KING 5. The service did not include medical costs, which Jung said the women obtained from local medical clinics and hospitals, always paying in cash.
Birth tourism companies advertise widely in China. They tout the advantages of U.S. citizenship: an inside track on education at American schools and colleges and the ability to bring family members into the country on green cards. Experts say that having a U.S. citizen in a Chinese family also carries a certain amount of prestige.
The growing trend made news earlier this year when three birth tourism operations were raided in Los Angles by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. In criminal affidavits, the agents said the businesses were coaching clients to conceal their pregnancies from U.S. State Department and immigration officers.
The LA business were also accused of signing up Chinese clients for welfare benefits and charity care at local hospitals.
Jung says his former employer was honest about paying medical costs. He says clients were required to pay their medical bills with cash or credit card before they left the country.
But Jung, and one other former employee who asked not to be identified, claim Fu Hua’s owner did coach clients to lie to immigration authorities about why they were traveling to the United States.
“If an officer asks if you’re going to deliver a baby, say ‘no'”, Jung quoted the owner as saying to clients.
Both former employees says the owner taught women to conceal their pregnancies with clothes so that they wouldn’t be detected by customs officers at U.S. airports.
The employees say the women were instructed to obtain tourism or business visas to enter the country.
Corporation records filed with the Washington Secretary of State’s office show that Fu Hua Enterprises, LLC was founded in 2012 by Ming Juan Sun. Her former employees say she is also known as Jennifer Sun.
At the door of her Bellevue home, Jennifer Sun told the KING 5 Investigators that she does not speak English.
In an email days later, a translator said “Jennifer Sun has no interest to be interviewed” and that “Fu Hua Enterprises was completely closed months ago.”
It is true that Fu Hua has left the Newcastle neighborhood where its luxury maternity homes have been located for more than two years. The business vacated the home on 155th Ave. SE about three months ago, neighbors said.
Neighbor Doug Wiviott said calls to Bellevue City Hall, the police department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did no good.
“Nobody really wanted to deal with it, so we dealt with it as a homeowner’s association,” said Wiviott.
A federal immigration source in Seattle said ICE agents were not aware of Fu Hua Enterprises. The source says ICE is interested in investigating whether any criminal violations have occurred.
Wiviott said neighbors eventually pieced together the nature of the business across the street and it made him angry.
“We pay our taxes and want our kids to go to state colleges, etc, etc. The whole thought of them coming over here and competing with our kids and not paying any taxes here… definitely bothered us,” said Wiviott.
He says the homeowners association cited the Fu Hua for operating a business in violation of the neighborhood association’s codes.
After an exchange between lawyers, Fu Hua moved out of the house.
Although Sun says the business is closed, Jung says he is not sure if that is true. He had a falling out with Ming “Jennifer” Sun around the same time as Fu Hua left Newcastle and he no longer works for Sun.
This story first aired on Sept. 21, 2015. Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @cjingalls. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org