Deported Korean Adoptees, Outsiders in Two Societies

(Photo via Korea Daily)

As New York’s Korea Times has reported, some organizations here are trying to promote the adoption of Korean children by Korean-American couples. But a piece in the Seoul edition of the Korea Daily, published in Korean and English, strikes a warning note. The article outlines the plight of Korean-American adoptees who find themselves deported, caught between the two countries, and sometimes in even worse trouble.

One 39-year-old man of Korean descent surnamed Kim, disguised in a white wig and sunglasses, entered a bank in Gaepo-dong in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Aug. 2.

With an air pistol in hand, he threatened bank employees. He took off with 20 million won ($17,740) and caught a taxi in front of the bank, shouting at the driver, “Go, go!”

The driver, taking his urgent passenger as a foreigner, turned off the ignition, and police caught the would-be bank robber in the next few minutes. Kim’s story highlights the plight of some Korean adoptees whose nationalities are uncertain.

A police officer said, regarding Kim, “After being adopted to the United States then deported, there was no means for him to earn a living, and in a fit of rage, he committed the crime.”

Kim was adopted by a wealthy Arizona family in 1973, the Korea Daily reported, but after his adoptive parents were killed in an accident, he discovered that that they didn’t go through the proper procedures of obtaining his U.S citizenship. These events set him adrift, and he became involved in drugs and gangs, and was sentenced to jail time, then deported to Korea.  At first he earned some money teaching English, but he ended up becoming involved in drugs again, which led to the robbery.

And Kim’s case is not the exception. Because of the stringent citizenship application procedures in the United States, or sometimes because parents seek to save on application fees, some parents do not apply for citizenship for their adopted children.

Oh Myeong-shik, vice chairman of the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, said, “There are about five to 10 adoptees per year who come seek us out because they could not receive citizenship in the United States.”  Last year, 916 children were adopted abroad according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. In 2001, it was 2,436.

The Korea Daily also spoke to another adoptee who said he had a rough time without American citizenship.

Matthew Siller, 34, born here and adopted to the U.S. in 1978, said, “When I applied for college, because I did not have U.S. citizenship, schools charged expensive tuition as if I was a foreigner.”

After adoptees without citizenship go back to Korea, many have difficulty adjusting, said the director of KoRoot, an adoption organization, especially those who had unhappy childhoods in adoption.

Kim Do-hyun, director of KoRoot, said, “Those who did not grow up with care from their adoptive parents have difficulty adjusting, even when they return to Korea.”

Because of a change of law in 2001, those born after 1983 and adopted to the United States are all eligible for citizenship. However, if a child is adopted through unofficial means, it is difficult to acquire citizenship.

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