Women in ‘Birth Tourism’ Ring Had 119 Babies on Long Island, Officials Say

The Facebook post advertised a tantalizing offer for pregnant women in Turkey. “If you believe your baby should be born in the USA and become an American citizen,” the ad said in Turkish, “then you are at the right place.”

In exchange for payments between $7,500 and $10,000 each, the women received transportation, medical care and lodging at a so-called birth house on Long Island, federal prosecutors said — allowing them to travel to New York on tourist visas and return to Turkey with babies who were American citizens.

On Wednesday, prosecutors charged six people with running the “birth tourism” operation on Long Island, which facilitated the births of an estimated 119 babies to Turkish women since at least 2017.

The costs of the births were fraudulently billed to the state, causing New York’s Medicaid program to lose more than $2.1 million, prosecutors said.

“The defendants cashed in on the desire for birthright citizenship, and the American taxpayer ultimately got stuck with the $2.1 million bill,” said Seth DuCharme, the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. “The indictment unsealed today reinforces the principle that American citizenship is not for sale, and that our benefits programs are not piggy banks for criminals to plunder.”

In total, the defendants received about $750,000 in payments from pregnant women, prosecutors said.

Birth tourism is a longstanding phenomenon. In recent years, it has drawn mostly well-off mothers from China, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and Nigeria to the U.S. for birthright citizenship. A 2018 case involving the stabbing of three babies at a maternity center in Queens exposed the risks of the unregulated practice.

Earlier this year, the State Department gave visa officers more power to stop pregnant women from visiting the United States if the women were suspected of traveling to give birth. The new rule described giving birth as “an impermissible basis” for visiting the United States.

After children who are U.S. citizens turn 21, they can sponsor a parent for a green card.

The State Department has estimated that thousands of babies are born to tourists from abroad every year, but there are no official numbers. In 2018, there were about 3.8 million total births in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The defendants on Wednesday were charged with fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Four of them are Turkish nationals accused of advertising the scheme and of facilitating the women’s lodging and transportation. The other two are U.S. citizens who are suspected of helping to file the fraudulent Medicaid applications.

The mothers were not criminally charged and are not targets of the investigation. Prosecutors said it would be unlikely for the children to lose their U.S. citizenship.

The federal investigation on Long Island, which took more than a year, involved surveillance photographs, wiretapped conversations, search warrants for iCloud accounts and even an undercover agent.

Ibrahim Aksakal — an accused leader of the scheme — said in a recorded conversation in May 2019 that the women needed to apply

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Disney Plus’ Black Beauty almost had a live horse birth scene

The Horse Girl Canon is Polygon’s celebration and exploration of the books, films, TV, toys, and games that have become essential to the cross-generational “Horse Girl” life.

Black Beauty is a book that quite literally changed history. Anna Sewell’s fictional biography of a gentle, beautiful horse in 19th century England was a blunt parable on animal welfare, and its depictions of animal abuse — described from a horse’s perspective — led to reforms and an increased awareness of horses’ intelligence.

The novel was adapted several times in the last 100 years, most notably by Edward Scissorhands and Secret Garden screenwriter Caroline Thompson in 1994 as a period piece. Now 33-year-old Ashley Avis (Adolescence) has taken up the challenge of telling the classic story in a modern setting. Her adaptation of Black Beauty — which she wrote, directed, and edited — comes out on Disney Plus on Nov. 27.

The film transposes Beauty’s story to the United States, where the titular horse grows up as a wild mustang before being captured and shipped east, separated from her herd. Initially resistant to being tamed, Beauty meets Jo Green (Mackenzie Foy), a wounded young girl who wants nothing to do with horses — until she meets Beauty. It’s the ultimate horse girl story.

As a young girl in Florida, the Black Beauty novel kicked off Avis’ own lifelong relationship with horses. She was an equestrian long before she was a filmmaker, and now she’s making a career out of combining those passions. Her next project is Breyer Hollow, a horse-centric children’s series from Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment based on the Breyer horse toyline.

“There’s a quick and fast way that you can train horses. And there’s the right way to train horses,” Avis told me. She was set on using Liberty Training for the film, a method that emphasizes the bond between humans and horses. Essentially, she wanted the horses to want to perform in the movie, rather than perform out of obligation. The trainers had 10 weeks to turn four Thoroughbred mares, fresh from the track, into Black Beauty.

“We were able to achieve stunts that we weren’t sure were going to be possible, like Beauty actually racing the river,” Avis told Polygon. The scene is a retooling of one from the 1877 book, where Beauty saves his driver by refusing to cross an overflowing river. In this take, Beauty runs alongside the river in an attempt to rescue her rider, who has been swept away. “All of that’s real,” said Avis.

But the stunts were just one of the production’s challenges. With the release of Polygon’s Horse Girl Canon, we sat down with Avis to find out what it was like working with the twenty (twenty!) horses that played Black Beauty, and how she reworked Anna Sewell’s story for a modern world.

A black horse galloping across a field of dry yellow grass.

Black Beauty, as seen in the 2020 film.
Image: Disney/Graham Bartholomew

Polygon: There was a renaissance of horse movies when we were growing up — The

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Mindy Kaling Reveals Reese Witherspoon Sent Her The Best Gift After The Birth of New Baby Spencer

When Mindy Kaling welcomed her first child, Katherine, she received a pretty amazing gift from her Wrinkle in Time co-star, Oprah Winfrey.

In 2018, while making an appearance on The Late Show, she revealed that Oprah had gifted Kit an ornate wooden bookcase in the shape of a castle, which was packed with children’s literature and each book inscribed with “Katherine’s Book Club.”

“It straight-up sucks compared to what Oprah gave me and I mean that with love,” Mindy told host Stephen Colbert about his own gift to her. “The bookcase was carved in the shape of an old-timey castle. It’s such a nice present! And yours was such a nice present.”

However, this time around with Mindy‘s second child, Reese Witherspoon is the top gifter.

According to her new interview with PopSugar, Reese sent over toys, and clothes, and food for days.

“I felt like the minute I got back from the hospital, there was a gorgeous gift for Spencer, with beautiful clothes and toys,” she shared. “And this is why you know a gift is from Reese Witherspoon — she also got my older kid something.”

Mindy adds, “My daughter, who didn’t do anything, got all these beautiful clothes and toys, too. And she sent us food, so we didn’t have to cook for four days. So, that’s to me just a very Reese Witherspoon-type present where it’s thoughtful but in a very macro way. Like, she really knows what’s going on in your life. That was impressive to me.”

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Palm Beach author channels rejection by birth mother, fashion industry experiences in debut novel

ADRIANA DELGADO
 
| Palm Beach Daily News

Debut author Deborah Robinson has no words of affection for the woman who gave birth to her.

“I felt love for my parents, the ones who adopted me, not for her,” Robinson said. “Did I want her to like me and accept me? Of course I did, but that just didn’t happen. She did not want me, and she had no interest in getting to know me. She wasn’t my mother, she was a ‘biological incubator.’” 

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Robinson, a longtime resident, wrote her debut fiction novel “Lily Rose” as a way to narrate the experience and pain of being abandoned by her biological mother. 

“The book actually started out as a memoir, and it was cathartic in the beginning. But as I started to write, I began to see that writing it as a memoir was not a good idea, and it would be better to write it as a fiction book. I wanted to make these particular characters their own,” Robinson said.

>>RELATED: Pulitzer-prize novel ‘The Nickel Boys’ chosen for Read Together Palm Beach County

“Lily Rose” begins with the story of vivacious teenager Anna James Jefferson (“Jeff”), who is desperate to leave her small town of Paris, Kentucky. She falls head over heels for a well-to-do prep school boy named Eric, and Jeff begins to see all of her dreams start to come true.

But the romance is cut short  when Jeff finds out she’s pregnant and Eric refuses to marry her. 

Considering the challenges of being an unwed teen mother in a conservative Southern town, Jeff decides to put the baby up for adoption, but not before giving her a name: Lily Rose.

The second part of the novel follows Lily Rose’s life, her journey from small-town girl to fashion icon fame in New York City and an eventual reunion with her birth mother, which doesn’t go quite as planned. 

Robinson said the name of her book’s main character is the one her birth mother gave her when she was born. Her adoptive parents eventually changed it to Deborah, but she feels Lily Rose is an important part of her identity, even if she never had a relationship with the woman who gave it to her.

“Part of the reason I wrote the book was to examine the question of nature versus nurture, and to see exactly how far the apple falls from the tree,” Robinson said. 

Like her protagonist, Robinson also moved from Kentucky to New York City at 23. She very much wanted to be part of the Manhattan fashion circuit, but had no idea how to do it.

“I took a small job as a fashion assistant in a store, and I started moving up from there.  I think I was at the right place at the right time, and I was good at what I did,” Robinson said.  “When I was about 28 years old,

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Schwandt Family gives birth to girl after 14 boys

In a photo from May 30, 2018, the Schwandt family poses for a photo at their farm in Lakeview, Mich. Standing from left are Tommy, Calvin, Drew, Tyler, Zach, Brandon, Gabe, Vinny and Wesley. Seated, starting at upper left are Charlie, Luke, mother Kateri holding Finley, father Jay with Tucker and Francisco in the foreground.

In a photo from May 30, 2018, the Schwandt family poses for a photo at their farm in Lakeview, Mich. Standing from left are Tommy, Calvin, Drew, Tyler, Zach, Brandon, Gabe, Vinny and Wesley. Seated, starting at upper left are Charlie, Luke, mother Kateri holding Finley, father Jay with Tucker and Francisco in the foreground.

AP

A Michigan family with 14 boys will have some adjustments to make following a new addition to the family.

It’s a girl!

The Schwandt family of western Michigan welcomed Maggie Jayne Schwandt to the family Thursday morning. After 14 boys, Maggie is the first girl.

“As if 2020 couldn’t get any crazier!” the family said on the Facebook page of their livestream program, ‘14 Outdoorsmen.’ “We are blessed to welcome and announce the birth of our little SISTER, Maggie Jayne. Her and mom are doing well and we couldn’t be more excited.”

The 14 boys range in age 2 to 28, according to a 2018 article from Today. The parents, Jay and Kateri Schwandt, even became grandparents for the first time two years ago, the Today article states.

Asked by MLive.com in 2014 if their 13th baby could be a girl, the mom said, “I think we would go into shock. It would probably be disbelief.”

After the birth of Magie, Mercy Health congratulated the Schwandt family Friday on their “remarkable addition.”

The eldest brother, Tyler Schwandt, told the Detroit Free Press he isn’t sure if her mother owns anything that is pink. He said he hasn’t “quite wrapped my mind around” the birth of the first girl to the family.

“We are overjoyed and beyond excited to add Maggie Jayne to our family,” Jay Schwandt told the Free Press. “This year has been memorable in so many ways, for so many reasons, but Maggie is the greatest gift we could ever imagine.”

Katie Schwandt, who is 46, is used to large families; she is one of 14 siblings herself, according to mlive.

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Mike Stunson covers real-time news for McClatchy. He is a 2011 Western Kentucky University graduate who has previously worked at the Paducah Sun and Madisonville Messenger as a sports reporter and the Lexington Herald-Leader as a breaking news reporter.
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‘Lives have been lost’: Pregnant women in Zimbabwe forced to pay bribes when giving birth | Global development

In agonising labour pain and turned away from a Harare health centre, Aurage Katume feared that, like many other Zimbabwean women, she could lose her unborn baby.

She struggled to another clinic in the country’s capital. The midwives there were not ready to help her either.

“What did you bring us?” one of them said, a subtle bribe request, as Katume’s mother pleaded with them to be merciful.

“My mother quickly realised that they were asking for money, and she handed $5 (£3.90) to the one who appeared more senior. There was no receipt and all of a sudden I was taken to a bed in the delivery room,” she said in court documents seen by the Guardian.

As Zimbabwe’s once enviable healthcare sector collapses under the weight of dilapidated infrastructure, a lack of drugs and poorly paid staff going on frequent strikes, pregnant women are being forced to pay bribes to get help with giving birth, with reports of babies being born in queues outside maternity clinics.

Nurses in Harare earlier this year arrested by police after protesting to to demand a salary increase.



Nurses in Harare earlier this year arrested by police after protesting to to demand a salary increase … frequent strikes have left hospitals understaffed. Photograph: Aaron Ufumeli/EPA

The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to healthcare, and, after her experience giving birth, Katume and another woman, Melody Mapani, took city authorities to court to force them to reopen 42 clinics. A high court judge this month ordered the council to do so, and ensure women get the services they need. In the court papers, Katume said her baby could have died had her mother not paid the bribe.

“The midwives flatly refused to attend to me. My mother pleaded with them to be merciful. In the discussion, one of the ladies asked: ‘What did you bring us, what’s in it for us,’” Katume said.

Her lawyers allege corrupt staff in clinics give priority to clients who pay in US dollars.

“Since only a few clinics are operational, this has resulted in rampant corruption from healthcare workers who are giving priority treatment to those paying US dollars which employers are pocketing,” the lawyers said.

“The violation of rights is ongoing and any delay in arresting puts the lives of Harare residents in grave danger, especially pregnant women,” argued the lawyers.

“Lives have been lost, especially of babies during the birth, some dying before birth owing to delayed or non-attendance by healthcare workers at these clinics.”

Many have resorted to back yard delivery homes or home deliveries, which increase the risk for the mother and child.

The court documents also allege negligence and lack of care at the council clinics, with pregnant women reportedly being tossed from one clinic to another without due care.

Under these circumstances women with pre-existing conditions risk losing their babies, as happened to Melody Mapani. She went from one clinic to another looking for help before suffering a stillbirth linked to high blood pressure, which hadn’t been picked up on because a clinic had closed, according to the court documents.

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CDC: Pregnant women with COVID-19 have higher risk for preterm birth

Nov. 2 (UPI) — Pregnant women infected with COVID-19 are about 25% more likely to deliver their babies preterm, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 13% of babies born to mothers with the disease were delivered preterm, or at less than 37 weeks, the data showed.

Just over 10% of babies in the United States are born preterm, according to the CDC.

“The proportion of preterm live births among women with [COVID-19] infection during pregnancy was higher than that in the general population in 2019, suggesting that pregnant women with [the disease] infection might be at risk for preterm delivery,” agency researchers wrote.

Still, the findings are “preliminary and describe primarily women with second and third trimester infection, and … subject to change pending completion of pregnancy for all women in the cohort,” they said.

For the analysis, the CDC researchers reviewed data on pregnancy and infant outcomes among 5,252 women with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 from 15 states and Puerto Rico reported between March 29 and Oct. 14.

Among 3,912 live births with known gestational age, 12.9% were preterm, the agency said.

However, fewer than 3% of infants for whom test results were available had evidence of the virus, and most of them were born to mothers who had been infected within one week of delivery, the agency said.

Among 610 infants with reported test results, 2.6% tested positive for COVID-19, the data showed.

Previous studies have shown that pregnant women are unlikely to pass the disease on to their children.

However, data released by the CDC in June indicated that expecting mothers may be at increased risk for severe illness from the virus.

These concerns appear to have been confirmed in a separate analysis the agency released Monday, which found that pregnant women infected with COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to require treatment in a hospital intensive care unit and nearly three times as likely to need mechanical ventilation than “non-pregnant” women.

However, “the absolute risks for severe outcomes for women were low,” according to the CDC.

“Pregnant women were at increased risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness,” the CDC researchers said.

“To reduce the risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19, pregnant women should be counseled about the importance of seeking prompt medical care if they have symptom sand measures to prevent [coronavirus] infection should be strongly emphasized for pregnant women and their families,” they said.

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Women on Qatar Airways Flight Strip Searched to See If They Had Given Birth to Abandoned Baby

KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images Qatar Airways flight

A group of female passengers on a plane headed from Qatar to Australia say they were humiliatingly violated by authorities who conducted “incredibly invasive” strip searches and medical exams after a newborn baby was found in a terminal bathroom.

The incident occurred on Oct. 2 at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, apparently as an attempt by airport staffers to determine who had given birth to and abandoned the child, Australia’s 7 News reported.

A group of women, including 13 Australians, were reportedly removed from their Qatar Airways flights on the tarmac, detained and forced to undergo an inspection in an awaiting ambulance.

“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said at a press conference on Monday. “It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”

One of the victims, a 31-year-old nurse from Australia named Jessica, told The New York Times that she and her fellow female passengers were split into groups of four and shuffled into two ambulances on the tarmac.

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She tells PEOPLE that after sharing the experience, “I’m really hopeful that this won’t happen to other people.”

There, she said, she was told to lie down on a table and remove her underwear, despite the fact that she was next to a window with no blinds and more than a dozen men were standing outside.

“I was scared,” Jessica said. “We were all like, ‘Can someone please tell us what is happening?’ All [the female examiner] said was, ‘A baby has been found in a bin, and we need to test you.’”

Jessica told the Times that the process was “incredibly invasive,” and that several older women in the other ambulance had their bellies pressed.

“I was freaking out,” she said. “I still didn’t know what was happening. I remember lying there, I think I was in shock but I was thinking, ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t how this should be done.’… There was no choice in any of it.”

RELATED: Qatar Airways CEO Apologizes After Calling U.S. Flight Attendants ‘Grandmothers’

Passenger Wolfgang Babeck told the Times that when the women returned to the plane, they appeared “shellshocked,” and several were in tears.

“I personally found this disturbing,” he said.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has formally complained to authorities in Qatar, according to 7 News, which was the first to report the incident this weekend.

“The Australian Government is aware of concerning reports regarding the treatment of female passengers, including Australian citizens, at Doha (Hamad) airport in Qatar,” DFAT said in a statement to the outlet. “We have formally

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