Adoptees struggle with uncertain nationalities

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Adoptees struggle with uncertain nationalities

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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 in October 1973 by a family in Arizona who kept a ranch of some 1,000 horses. He lived an affluent life until his family was suddenly killed in an accident.

Then came the revelation that his adoptive parents did not go through the proper procedures to obtain U.S. citizenship for him.

Kim became involved in gang warfare and drugs. After a brawl in 2000, he was imprisoned for seven years and eventually deported to Korea.

Arriving in Korea in 2007, he worked as an English instructor at a hagwon, or private academy.

But he became involved in drugs again and was sentenced to a year in prison in Korea. After being discharged in October, because of his criminal record, he could not find a job.

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.

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.”

An outcast both in school and his neighborhood, when he was 8 years old he told his adopted parents he wanted to return to Korea. “It was like speaking to a wall.”

He said, “My adopted parents adopted me to receive tax benefits.”

When he turned 18, his parents told him, “You can leave the house now.” He spent the next five years homeless, drifting around Los Angeles.

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.

The Welfare Ministry from last year is in the process of examining the citizenship of over 16,000 adoptees abroad and plans to announce the results later this year.


By Kim Min-sang [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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