Miami, Mar 22 (AP/UNB) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.
They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.
While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.
And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.
The Russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.
President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows "birthright citizenship" and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.
Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.
The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.
South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow."
"With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That's actually really cool," said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.
An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for "green card" immigration status for the parents.
A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.
Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.
Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.
"Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave," said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.
Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.
Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.
The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump's proposals, said the practice couldn't be ended with an order.
But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.
"We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can't forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.
"Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens," Zhirinovsky said.
Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.
Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it's good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.
Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.
"We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits" of a U.S. passport, she said.
"We just knew that it was something awesome," added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.
Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like "a stay in a good hotel."
In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.
"And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise," Zemlyanaya added.
She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as "mommies," as opposed to "rozhenitsa," or "birth-giver" — the "unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics."
Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn't allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.
Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.
Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.
Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said.
Beijing, Mar 22 (AP/UNB) — Authorities in northern China say a man trying to kill his wife and daughter has crashed his car into pedestrians and killed six people.
Authorities in Zaoyang city, northern Hubei province, say restaurant owner Cui Lidong attempted to kill his wife and daughter Friday morning before hitting people on the street with a car.
The 44-year-old Cui was then shot dead by police.
The Zaoyang government statement says six people were killed, including one child. Eight people, including four children, were injured.
Cui's wife and daughter are among the injured.
United Nations, March 22 (Xinhua/UNB) - The number of confirmed deaths from Cyclone Idai in southern Africa has risen to at least 437 with officials expecting the death toll to rise further, a UN official said on Thursday.
In Mozambique, "the death toll has now risen to 242," said Gemma Connell, head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' (OCHA) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa, in the Mozambican capital of Maputo.
More than 195 people died in neighboring Malawi (56) and Zimbabwe (139), according to the respective governments, she said in a telephone briefing for reporters.
"We do anticipate for that to rise in the days ahead as the full extent of the loss of life becomes known," she said. "It's critical for everyone to be aware that many areas remain inundated with water and therefore the counting of the dead will continue to take some time, so we expect the death toll to rise as that progresses.
Connell said that on Wednesday she was in Beira, a flooded port city of about 500,000, and toured some of the region by helicopter, where roads were mostly impassible.
Beira is a key gateway for neighboring and landlocked Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe where Idai made landfall on March 15.
"When I was over the area of Buzi (a nearby district), we were starting to see some of the flood waters beginning to go down," she said. "There is still the possibility of secondary floods."
"Therefore, we are on high alert for this situation to worsen," the aid worker said. "But, we are happy that we have the good news of the flood waters going down."
The OCHA official lauded two key non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing air support for the relief operation, Mercy Air and Wings Like Eagles, calling helicopter crews "heroic," and saying it was "absolutely critical" to have the air support.
She said OCHA was not seeking supplies but needed more funds.
The head of OCHA, Undersecretary-General Mark Lowcock, announced earlier in the week 20 million U.S. dollars had been freed from the UN's Central Emergency Relief Fund. Connell said that was not near enough.
She said high energy biscuits and clean drinking water had initially been provided to flood victims, many of whom had gathered in houses of worship, stadiums and other large sites above the water.
Idai, as a tropical storm, flooded parts of central Mozambique and southern Malawi in early March, meteorological agencies said. It then went back out to sea, gathered strength and doubled back as a full-fledged cyclone to hit many already flooded areas.
The OCHA regional head said Cyclone Idai had created a "complex situation and an even more complex (humanitarian) response."
Australia, Mar 22 (AP/UNB) — Two powerful cyclones are bearing down on Australia's sparsely populated north where around 2,000 people have been evacuated from the east coast of the Northern Territory ahead of strong winds, mountainous waves and flooding rain that are forecast.
Cyclones are frequent in Australia's tropical north and rarely claim lives. But two such large storms as Cyclones Trevor and Veronica crossing land on the same weekend is rare.
Bureau of Meteorology manager Todd Smith said on Friday that Trevor is expected to cross the east shore of the Northern Territory on Saturday morning as a Category 4 storm. It currently has sustained winds of 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph).
Veronica is also expected to be a Category 4 when it crosses the coast of Western Australia state over Sunday night.
New Zealand, Mar 22 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of people have gathered for a mass funeral to bury 26 of the victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The funeral is taking place at a Muslim cemetery where more than a dozen of the 50 killed last week already have been laid to rest.
Family members took turns passing around shovels and wheelbarrows to bury their loved ones.
The burials come hours after thousands gathered in a Christchurch park for Friday prayers, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Friday's burials also include the youngest victim of the attacks, 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim.
An Australian national security official says security agencies are increasing their "scrutiny and pressure" on white supremacists after the New Zealand mosque attack.
Home Affairs Department chief executive Mike Pezzullo told a Senate committee on Friday that Australian agencies were working to assist the New Zealand investigation into the Australian man arrested in the killings of 50 worshippers in two Christchurch mosques last week.
Brenton Tarrant espoused white-supremacist views in a manifesto describing his plans for the attack, and racist imagery was seen in his livestreamed footage.
Pezzullo said the Home Affairs Department stood resolutely against white supremacy and he addressed its adherents in saying," The scrutiny and pressure that you are under will only intensify.'"
People across New Zealand are observing the Muslim call to prayer as the nation reflects on the moment one week ago when 50 people were slaughtered at two mosques.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and thousands of others congregated in leafy Hagley Park opposite the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch to observe the call to prayer early Friday afternoon.
Thousands more were listening in on the radio or watching on television as the event was broadcast live. The prayer was followed by two minutes of silence.
The observance comes the day after the government announced a ban on "military-style" semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like the weapons that were used in last Friday's attacks.