Sunday, January 07, 2007

First Baby of 2007 Contest Ignites Immigration Birthright Controversy

Yesterday's New York Times had one of the most interesting immigration-relates stories I've seen in a while. It turns out that Toys "R" Us sponsored a first baby of the year contest that would award $25,000 to the first baby born in 2007. The company ended up disqualifying the first winner, from a Chinese immigrant family, because the child's mother is in the United States illegally:

It seemed like a perfect formula for good publicity: A national sweepstakes would award a $25,000 United States savings bond to the first American baby born in 2007, courtesy of the toy chain Toys “R” Us and its Babies “R” Us division.

Instead, after disqualifying a Chinese-American baby girl born in New York Downtown Hospital at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, the toy company finds itself caught in the glare of the
immigration debate, stumbling over the nation’s new demographic realities.

The baby girl, Yuki Lin, was an American citizen from the second the ball dropped in Times Square, where the Toys “R” Us flagship store draws thousands of shoppers from around the world. But like 6 out of 10 babies born in the city — including at least two others born in Brooklyn about the same moment — she has immigrant parents. And according to the contest’s fine print, the chain decided, she was ruled out because her mother was not a legal resident.

The first baby of the year is usually a one-day story. But Albert H. Wang, a corporate lawyer who read about Yuki Lin’s lost chance on the Web site of the Chinese-language newspaper The World Journal, was outraged enough to start an e-mail campaign that is enlisting the ire of prominent Chinese-Americans like the president of the Asian American Business Development Center and officers of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Their criticism, and threats of a media campaign against the company, come just a month after the chain opened its first store in China, in Shanghai.

“They want business from China,” said Mr. Wang, 39, adding that most of the chain’s toys are made by Chinese workers in China. “But when it comes to this Chinese-American U.S. citizen, she was deprived of $25,000 intended to be used for her college education, because of who her parents are.”

Kathleen Waugh, a spokeswoman for the company, confirmed yesterday that Yuki Lin, born at 6.5 pounds and 19 inches long, had been close to winning the prize. The baby won a random drawing to break a three-way tie with hospitals in Gainesville, Ga., and Bay Shore, N.Y., which also claimed a baby born at midnight.

But, Ms. Waugh added, “in working with New York Downtown Hospital to verify the potential winner’s information and obtain a signed affidavit of eligibility — which is required under the official rules of the sweepstakes — the sweepstakes administrator was informed that the mother of the baby born at New York Downtown Hospital was not a legal resident of the United States.” Contest rules say that only mothers who are legal residents are eligible, Ms. Waugh said, adding that such requirements are common in sweepstakes.

The award went instead to the runner-up in the drawing, Jayden Swain, born 19 seconds after midnight at Northeast Georgia Medical Center to Renee Swain, 20, described by her mother as “a black American.” “She’s an American all the way,” Ms. Swain’s mother, Janet K. Keller, said in a telephone interview.
Read the whole thing. Keller, the grandmother of Jayden Swain, is quoted as making some strong anti-immigration comments, centered on the birthrights of American-born children of illegal immigrants. Keller argued against giving the $25,000 to Yuki Lin, saying she was an "anchor baby":

“If she’s an illegal alien, that makes the baby illegal,” said Ms. Keller, 50. Told otherwise, she remarked, “Sounds like a double standard to me,” adding, “She was disqualified — that should be it. Don’t go changing your mind now.”
As readers here know, I'm not very generous towards those who are here illegally, but Yuki Lin won fair and square. Toys "R" Us had a bad set of contest rules, and to quell the controversy, the company has now awarded $25,000 to each of the three babies, who were all born seconds apart just after midnight on January 1st.

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