A Long Island man has pleaded guilty to running a years-long ‘birth tourism’ scheme through which he brought 117 pregnant women from Turkey to the U.S. to give birth and gain citizenship for their children. Ibrahim Aksakal, 49, of East Patchogue, N.Y., admitted running websites and Facebook pages in Turkey with names like “Let my baby be born in America,” and “Giving birth in America,” that offered women the possibility of having their child in the U.S. for a $7,500 fee.
The fee included the cost of transport, visas, medical care, a place to stay for a period before and after the women had given birth, and help applying for citizenship for their children once they had been born, prosecutors said. Aksakal pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to commit medical and wire fraud. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. A message left with his attorney wasn’t immediately returned. ‘Birth tourism’ seeks to take advantage of the constitutional right that grants automatic citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil. Last year, the U.S. State Department amended its rules to allow consular officials to deny visas to any woman they believe is travelling to the U.S. to give birth.
““More than $1 million of American citizens’ hard-earned money was stolen through this conspiracy.””
— Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini
It is not fundamentally illegal for a woman to come to the U.S. to give birth but prosecutors have gone after facilitators like Aksakal. There are no clear numbers on how many women travel to the U.S. to gain citizenship for their children, but the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated in 2019 that there may be around 33,000 birth tourists every year. According to court records, Aksakal, who was also known as Dennis, would instruct the women to conceal their pregnancies and lie to U.S. consular officials in Turkey, saying they were travelling to America for tourism or to conduct business. Once they had arrived in New York, Aksakal would transport the women to one of seven “birth houses” in Suffolk County on Long Island. When the time came for the women to give birth, they would be brought to local hospitals where the cost of delivery would be covered by Medicare. In all, prosecutors say the scheme caused losses of over $1 million to the New York State Medicare program. “This was an extremely complex, international investigation that led law enforcement to the core of this scheme right here in our backyard,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini. “More than $1 million of American citizens’ hard-earned money was stolen through this conspiracy, and today’s plea holds its ringleader accountable.” Prosecutors said that between 2017 and 2020, Aksakal and his accomplices brought 117 women to the U.S. where they gave birth to 119 children.