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The Lin Yukin Story
I am posting the NYTimes.com story here in whole.|
First-Baby Sweepstakes Fuels Immigration Debate
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Published: January 6, 2007
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.
The baby at Bay Shore was born to a couple from El Salvador.
Mr. Wang and other Chinese-Americans say the winner was to be the baby, not the mother, and they see implications of second-class citizenship that strike an ugly chord. It only seemed to add insult to injury, they said, that the baby was instead given a $100 gift basket, just like all the others the chain gives to the first New Year’s babies born in any hospital that signs up for it.
“People are just pretty much outraged,” said John Wang, president of the 13-year-old Asian American Business Development Center, on Wall Street, adding that he was perplexed by the company’s actions.
“The schools accept children whose parents are illegal aliens in this country, so why is Toys ‘R’ Us taking this kind of position?” he asked. “They’re supported by many people, whether they’re legal or illegal, shopping in their stores, and they’re injecting themselves into this debate.”
The parents could not be reached for comment, and their exact immigration status was unclear. Vanessa Warner, a spokeswoman for New York Downtown Hospital, would not answer questions about the event, though an upbeat account of the birth and photos of the parents and medical team were on the hospital Web site yesterday. The mother is Han Lin and the father is Yan Zhu Liu, both 22-year-old restaurant workers
Leo Y. Lee, 49, an engineer who is past national vice president of the Organization of Chinese Americans, an advocacy organization, pointed out that the savings bond was awarded in the name of the baby, not the mother, and that there was no legal requirement for a rule barring the American-born child of an illegal immigrant.
“I am strongly opposed to the Toys ‘R’ Us decision to give the award to another baby just based solely on the mother’s status,” he said. His group, he said, does not “condone or approve illegal immigration, but anyone who is here should be protected by law — especially a baby with the same rights as any other citizen.”
But comments by Ms. Keller, the grandmother of the winning baby, hinted at the wrath that the company risked from the other side at a time when the most stringent critics of illegal immigration have called for an end to birthright citizenship, saying the children born to illegal immigrants are “anchor babies” who encourage illegal entry.
“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.”
Adding to the confusion were promotional materials that called for “all expectant New Year’s mothers” to apply to the contest, and allowed hospitals and Ob/Gyn offices to apply on behalf of their patients. The hospitals were offered a chance to win a $10,000 prenatal education grant. About 8,000 mothers and more than 800 hospitals participated in the contest, Ms. Waugh said.
Ole Pedersen, a spokesman for Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, said the hospital initially believed it had won the sweepstakes with the midnight birth of Odunayo Muhammed to a Nigerian immigrant couple, Christiana and Abdul Muhammed. Later he learned that the doctor who reported the birth online had missed the contest’s 6 a.m. deadline on Jan. 1 by an hour and a half.
As for a mother’s legal status, Mr. Pedersen added, “We wouldn’t have even thought of that.”