A Tucson hospital's health-care package promises affluent Mexican women the chance to have their babies in posh surroundings with access to the latest medical equipment.
But the marketing materials leave out a key draw in the arrangement: U.S. citizenship for the newborn.
Tucson Medical Center's "birth package" gives an official nod to a generations-old practice of wealthy Mexican women coming to U.S. hospitals to give birth. Mexican families do the same thing at all local hospitals, but TMC is the only one actively recruiting their business.
The practice is legal, but offensive to some advocates of tougher U.S. immigration standards.
"What it really amounts to," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, "is buying U.S. citizenship."
"This is different from any other kind of medical treatment," said Krikorian, whose Washington, D.C.-based think tank studies the impact of immigration on the United States. "If you come for cancer treatment … there's no consequence for the United States. You pay your money, you go home."
The Mexican consul general in Tucson said parents naturally want to give their children every advantage and securing U.S. citizenship is something a small percentage of Mexican families can afford.
"This is not a new phenomena," said Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes, who says he's seen the practice for almost 30 years. "Many families of means in Sonora send their wives here to give birth because they have the resources to pay for the services."
Expectant mothers can either schedule a Caesarean section or arrive a few weeks before their due dates to give birth at TMC. It is one of 13 packages aimed at Mexican families, some of which include a stay at a local resort and shopping excursion.
TMC's maternity package costs $2,300 for a vaginal birth with a two-day stay and $4,600 for a Caesarean section and a four-day stay, assuming no complications. That includes exams for the newborn and a massage for the new mother. There is a $500 surcharge per additional child.
"These are families with a lot of money, and some (women) arrive on private jets and are picked up by an ambulance and brought here," said Shawn Page, TMC's administrator of international services and relations. "These are families with a lot of clout."
U.S. citizenship for their children brings even more clout: the opportunity — and right — to live, work and study in the United States. Because their parents do not earn the same right, many children of such arrangements grow up in Mexico and come here as adults for school and work.
The United States recognizes the jus soli doctrine, which grants citizenship to those born on U.S. soil. Like the U.S., Mexico honors the jus sanguinis doctrine, which grants citizenship to a child based on the citizenship of the parents regardless of where the birth occurs. So a child of Mexican parents born at TMC would have dual nationality.
Array of packages
Aside from the maternity package, TMC offers 12 packages for international patients, including bone density tests, mammograms and urology procedures.
Many pair pampering with medical care.
Earlier this month, TMC launched the Mujer Sana (Healthy Woman) Health Tour Package, targeted to women 50 or older. It includes six exams at the hospital and three days and two nights at a Tucson-area resort and a shopping spree.
The hospital partnered with the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the program is marketed through the visitors bureau in Hermosillo, Sonora.
"TMC has generated a package dedicated exclusively to women, something Mexico hasn't done," said Miguel Angel Partida Ruíz, director of the bureau's Sonora office.
He said the patients can bring their families and turn the trip into a mini-vacation. The MTCVB has a contract with Super Shuttle to provide transportation.
Rocío Pérez Medina, coordinator of "Vamos a Tucson" — the campaign to promote Tucson in Sonora — said the new TMC package is appealing.
Although a fixed price has not been set, the visitors bureau estimates the cost will be between $500 and $600, which includes the $150 exams at TMC.
Earlier this month, Pérez Medina reviewed the results of the exams she took in order to sample the care patients would receive.
"It is very good, very thorough," she said. The package can be purchased by one person or for groups of up to 10.
Aside from treating international patients and the local Spanish-speaking community, Page said, the goal of TMC's international program is to reach out to U.S. citizens living in Canada or Mexico to come to Tucson for medical treatment.
Health niches on both sides
South of the border, private hospitals are applying for international certification and partnering with U.S. insurance providers to cover medical costs.
Officials with the recently created Medical Tourism Cluster in Sonora say the cross-border patient phenomena illustrates the different niches.
"It's good that Mexican patients go to Arizona," said Héctor Xavier Martínez, head of the Sonora Medical Tourism Cluster. "Hopefully, we can create agreements between private hospitals on both sides of the border."
Next month, hospital officials will visit Tucson to promote Sonoran hospitals and the lower cost of medical procedures.
Among the hospitals that will participate are Hospital Cima Hermosillo, Grupo Médico San José, Clínica del Noroeste and Grupo Médico de Hermosillo.
Tourism representatives and bus and airline companies will also participate in the Tucson visit.
The cluster is also promoting the idea of building small clinics in tourist destinations such as Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point.