SAIPAN (CN) - A beach dress "suspected" of being a maternity skirt put a young Chinese schoolteacher into handcuffs and a 22-hour detention, repeated body searches and assaults from Border Patrol agents, she claims in court.
Yu Min Zhao sued the United States of America on Monday in Northern Mariana Island Federal Court, for the treatment she received when she arrived as a tourist at Saipan International Airport.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents suspected she was a "birth tourist," Yu says. Birth tourists, according to the Border Patrol, arrive in the United States while pregnant, planning to give birth here, making their child a U.S. citizen, and paving the way for themselves.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and the Border Patrol, says there is no specific law against the alleged practice, but that admission to the United States or its territories is allowed or refused at the discretion of the admitting officer.
Yu, a 33-year-old teacher, says she flew to Saipan for a week-long vacation with her husband, "as a much needed break from their stressful middle-class jobs in China."
Much to their surprise, "After being denied entry, plaintiff was handcuffed and placed in detention room equipped only with a metal bench for approximately twenty-two (22) hours where she was denied access to communication with anyone, including her husband," Yu says in the complaint.
She says federal agents asked her repeatedly if she was pregnant, told her "I don't believe you" when she denied it, eventually handcuffed her, stuck her in solitary confinement for a day and told her she has no rights, let alone the right to speak to an attorney, because of her alien status. Yu says she could neither eat nor sleep during the 22-hour ordeal that began on arrival on Oct. 18, 2013.
The Border Patrol let her husband in, though, under The Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program , which allows passport holders from participating countries to travel to Guam and Saipan without a visa. Hong Kong and Taiwan are two of the 12 eligible countries.
Yu claims the Border Patrol officers alerted on her beach dress.
"Is this dress for pregnancy wearing?" one officer asked.
Yu said it was a beach dress, to wear over her bathing suit.
But a border guard placed held the dress up to Yu and weighed the size difference.
"It's a maternity skirt," the officer said. "Are you two months pregnant or three months pregnant?"
Yu told her again that she was not pregnant.
Then came the denial of entry, handcuffs, more harassment and the locked room.
Yu says officers repeatedly told her to sign a "voluntary departure" in English, which they did not explain in Chinese.
Each and every time she refused, the officers threatened to arrest and deport her husband, she says.
Nearly ill with frustration, Yu screamed for help whenever someone would open the door, which annoyed her captors. To punish her for her perceived lack of cooperation, Yu says, the officers tackled her, shoved her face-first against a wall, twisted her hands behind her back and slammed her head against a wall, until she agreed to sign the form.
The Northern Mariana Islands, a 4-hour flight from China, is viewed as a safe birthing hub for Chinese couples who want U.S. citizenship for their newborn.
Saipan International Airport receives about nine charter flights a week from Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, more than one-third of the islands' births in 2012 were to Chinese women. The anti-immigrant CIS is a spinoff from an equally anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
The CIS claims the births among tourists caused concern among island politicians and the Commonwealth Healthcare agency.
Citing the spike in births to Chinese tourists in 2012, Northern Mariana Governor Eloy Inos said the Guam-CNMI visa-waiver program is for tourism, not for having babies.
Inos and the commonwealth's non-voting U.S. Representative Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan requested the assistance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2013.
Yu seeks damages for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and attorney's fees.
She is represented by Samuel Mok in Saipan.
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