A judge on Monday sentenced a woman to 10 months in prison for her role in a business that helped pregnant Chinese women travel to the United States to give birth to children who would automatically receive U.S. citizenship.
U.S. District Judge James Selna issued the sentence in Santa Ana, to Dongyuan Li, who wiped away tears with her hand several times during the hearing.
Selna said he expected her to be released from custody later Monday due to time served.
Federal prosecutors opposed the sentence and said they believed Li should be sentenced to years in prison to deter others from helping women lie on visa applications and hide pregnancies in these so-called birth tourism schemes.
Li pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and visa fraud for running a birth tourism company in Southern California known as “You Win USA.”
Federal authorities said the company helped more than 500 Chinese women travel to the United States to deliver American babies, and that Li used a cluster of apartments in Irvine, California, to receive them.
Authorities said the company coached the women to lie on their visa applications and to hide their pregnancies when passing through customs in U.S. airports.
In a letter to the court, Li said she has taken English and music lessons and read books and exercised daily while in custody.
“I am very sorry for the mistakes that I have made,” she wrote in the Dec. 1 letter filed with the court. “I truly sincerely apologize for any harm that I have caused to the American society.”