Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don't Revise the CCA2000; Stop Deportations

Removal of non-citizen adoptees has gotten a lot of attention again in the U.S. because of Adam Crasper's impending removal hearing. The CCA's main problem is that it limited the protection to those who were younger than 18 at the time when the act became effective and to those whose adoptions were finalized. Many are now calling for automatic citizenship for all adoptees, regardless of age.

Action to prevent his removal is necessary, and fortunately his case is getting a ton of press, but the answer is not a revision of the CCA2000. The answer is to work for fair and just comprehensive immigration reform in line with all other immigrant rights organizations and activists. In the meantime, advocates and activists should be asking for the quicker blanket deferred action for adoptees, modeled after the actions the DREAMers got the Obama administration to enact.

There are many problems with just amending the CCA2000. First, an amendment will not pass through both houses of Congress in time to save Adam. Second, I don't think that goes far enough, leaving too many still vulnerable to deportation, and lastly it takes away our choice about naturalizing.

Here's my proposal:

  • Automatic immunity from deportation for all who were sent to the US to be adopted, including those whose adoptions were not finalized, and those who were not adopted like the babylift cases.
  • The choice to naturalize without the criminal background and health checks
  • Naturalization processing fees waived, including the biometrics and medical exam fees
  • Return of deported people who had been sent to the US to be adopted
Of course the first and most pressing concern is protecting those who were sent to the US to be adopted from removal. We must remember that it is not only Koreans who will be affected by an amendment or change to intercountry adoption laws. This becomes even more pressing as the Guatemalan wave comes of age, as they will be most vulnerable to profiling as immigrants. Fortunately, the majority were admitted to the US on IR-3 visas, and they are covered under the current CCA, but there are some who will not be covered, as the rampant mishandling of the Guatemalan adoptions gives me little hope that they were all processed legally and fully. As Kathryn Joyce pointed out, a lot of the adoption happening from Latin America (including Haiti) and Africa were instigated by fundamental Christians with megafamilies, and in many cases little sophistication regarding immigration matters. 

Furthermore, the Babylifts of Vietnam, Korea, Haiti, Cuba, etc. resulted in many children being sent to the US, ostensibly to be adopted, but many were left in foster care instead, and unnaturalized. These people need to be protected as well. Finally children and babies sent to be adopted but whose adoptions weren't finalized for any reason are not currently mentioned in either the original CCA2000 or amendment proposals. 

Removing the choice of citizenship was one of the reasons cited when adoptees campaigned for dual citizenship with their adoptive countries and South Korea. They acknowledged that removing this choice was an injustice. Let's not advocate for the same injustice. Making U.S. citizenship automatic probably removes the choice for adoptees from other countries, not only those from ROK. However, we should advocate for removing the blocks impeding naturalization from those who do wish to change their citizenship. Many adoptees struggle financially or with medical conditions.

The current fees to naturalize include the naturalization application, biometrics (to prove identity), health screening, and other things like shipping, photos, and notaries. There are several medical conditions which could make a person inadmissible or disqualify her or him from naturalization such as communicable diseases, mental illnesses, and addiction. 

The current laws also require anyone who has committed various misdemeanors or felonies from being ineligible for naturalization and can send them into removal proceedings. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA1996) makes some offenses especially likely for adoptees deportable offenses, including voting without citizenship and claiming to be a citizen by applying for a US passport without being a citizen. 

Like us, many DREAMers, adults who were brought to the US when they were children but who are now undocumented, got the right to stay in the US with work permission. They can get social security numbers and driver's licenses and join American society for the most part. Although this measure is volatile (the next administration can cancel it just as easily as Obama enacted it) it would "save" Adam. The experience that the DREAMers and immigrant rights' organizers have should be an asset to the adoption community, but we've repeatedly refused to support them or ask them for help. 

Any legislative action should also allow those who already have been deported to return to the US. Currently about 30 publicized cases or so have resulted in people who were adopted or who were sent to the US to be adopted being removed. Let's not forget them.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Korea’s History is My History

On the first ever overnight trip organized for adoptees by KoRoot, about 15 of us were relaxing by the bay in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. We sat singing Jindo Arirang after a day visiting the municipal cemetery in Kwangju where the martyrs were buried from the 5.18 uprising before many of them were re-interred in the nearby National Cemetery, and where more of their comrades subsequently joined them as the decades passed. I feel a profound sense of gratitude and connection to those young democracy fighters, many of whom died at the same age of my smartphone-addicted university students. Their school photos show them clad in school uniforms, and I recognize the artifacts left behind as almost identical to the same school supplies I used 6000 miles away in the USA. I tried to convey these feelings in inadequate words to the other trip participants while our hosts relayed the basic facts of the uprising to us.

I get the impression that the connection that I feel to these events and people of the 1980 come as a surprise to many people I meet in Korea. These people often try to educate adoptees and other dongpos about the intricacies of Korean customs, history, and manners, assuming we know nothing. Of these three elements of culture, the very easiest to grasp is history, even if it’s difficult to unravel the truth from nation-building myths and propaganda. Non-Korean western scholars are often called on to interpret current events for global audiences in the news media, so why couldn't those of us who are Korean-born, with more insider access to Korean communities, also be entrusted to have a basic grasp of history?

Although as a discrete population, we adoptees may seem to be the least connected by family histories from which to learn, but as a part of the farthest-flung national diaspora on earth [“World’s widest diaspora born over 100 years ago.” Korea Joong Daily. 2 October 2013] , adoptees are profoundly affected by history [Mueller, Ander R. “Adoptee justice is about social justice.” The Korea Times. 9 October 2012.] which often prompts us to learn on our own. In fact, since I have no personal history, the nation’s history is a substitute personal narrative for me, and integral to my critical understanding of intercountry adoption as part of the history of Korea.

1970s Factory worker
with her baby
For example, when I met three women who worked in garment factories in the 1970s [Song, Dae-Han. “70s Women Workers.” Solidarity Stories. 8 May 2014.]  to create the “Miracle on the Han,” I imagined that perhaps my own mother had been a part of this cohort of teenagers who worked bent over for 14 hours a day. I can easily see them in my mind these young women who migrated to Seoul or Incheon where I was presumably born, being forced to choose between mothering their children and continuing to work for incomes, ultimately relinquishing their children to the intercountry adoption industry. This part of the peoples’ history runs parallel with the history of many diasporic Koreans who were was also funding the transformation of South Korea with overseas remittances after the government encouraged emigration and tried to control population growth. In Kwangju those photos of rebellious citizens were also contemporaries of my parents. The Yushin system and Chung Doo Hwan’s martial law rule certainly affected my mother and father, as it touched everyone in South Korea. Of course I do not know my parents’ opinions about these issues, but I as I turned 4 in May 1980, I’m sure they must have witnessed the uprising and talked about it.

But the history of Korea is not only a substitute for my own personal history. Historic events created a system for intercountry adoption out of South Korea and a mythology about its necessity based on humanitarian grounds. Although the current system of intercountry adoption is usually said to have started about 60 years ago, I think the forced opening of the Hermit Kingdom, the partial Christianization of Korea, colonization and independence, the American influence on South Korea are all pertinent parts of the whole picture. This national history is as equally important as the substitute personal history in relation to intercountry adoption and adoptees are also a part of the history of South Korea.

Women in Chosun Korea selling produce in a market
Some of this national history has been obscured to facilitate the adoption industry. Take, for example, unwed single mothers. While Chosun-era society usually is depicted with “respectable” women as being “inside people,” strictly held to prescribed gender roles, what about women who had lower status? After all, they were the majority of the population. What about the peasants who certainly worked outdoors in the fields? Or female merchants with businesses? Or itinerant groups such as the Namsadang entertainers who, despite their name, had female members later in their history? What about mudang? kisaeng? What about slaves and their children? Single parenting is as old as parenting and a part of every society. This reality is not mentioned in histories of Korea, but I have no doubt it existed. This history ought to be uncovered.

Some history, however, is well known yet still counters the dominant narrative about the reasons for intercountry adoption. The story of the beginning of adoption out of Korea conventionally begins with the mixed-race children who would not be accepted by Korean society which also does not adopt non-relatives. Yet, even official Korean history is peppered with marriages of Koreans to non-Koreans and adoption. In early history the legendary Queen Heo Hwang Ok, wife of King Suro, was a foreigner, maybe from India. Later the Mongolian-Koryo alliance was supported by marriage. Finally, the creator of modern “Korean culture”, the Yi dynasty of Chosun, also had marriages to Japanese and white American women [“[HISTORY] The last prince of Korea” Life in Korea blog 26 October 2013.], plus acknowledged adoptions. During the Yi rule, too, thousands of marriages between Koreans and Japanese existed in both lands. Yet, despite this, we are told that Korea deeply values its “pure” bloodlines and has no tradition of adoption due to conservative Confucian values.

Korea’s recent and ancient history holds importance to me personally and as a way to understand the place adoption holds in this country. It connects me to an imagined past rooted in plausible reality. Exposing and publicizing the real history of Korean society, especially of women, allows for pointed questions about the justifications for adoption.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Returnees Organizing Korea Out of the Intercountry Adoption Industry

Originally written and posted to ISC Solidarity Stories

By Kristin R. Pak

The intercountry adoption (ICA) market is driven by demand from rich countries and commodifies the most vulnerable people. It’s unsustainable as child welfare, and does great harm wherever the market emerges. Realpolitik policies that trade in humans for leverage are unconscionable, but dress them in fateful red thread narratives and a savior aura, and they are not just palatable, but seem magnanimous and altruistic. The marketing and branding of poor children as orphans with no past and no hope for the future started here in South Korea, and has been replicated again and again throughout the (former) second and third worlds. The justifications for UN-regulated human trafficking range from discrimination to poverty to evangelism. Ignored is how little ICA does to address the systemic problems that created poverty, the legal and institutionalized discrimination that force people to the margins of society, and the failed government programs that restrict families to one child. Furthermore, the continuing interference that the west (particularly the United States) perpetrates in the developing world, disrupts traditional communities and livelihoods.

South Korea is still among the top suppliers of children for the ICA industry. SOURCE:

Babies and children are traded in return for money– profits for adoption agencies, hard currency for poor countries, fees for lawyers, revenue for hospitals, and “donation” income for orphanages while at the same time releasing a bit of pressure that these rather-be-forgotten troubles put on a society. Poor families, biracial babies, unwed mothers, addicts and mentally ill patients all should be hidden or gotten rid of in the speediest, most profitable way possible, but only a limited amount can be sent away. We can’t be kept out. Thousands of us are returning every year, demanding the truth. We’re joining in solidarity with others who have stayed to change laws, provide services, and reform society.

Why have some of the 200,000 of us who were sent away to be adopted returning?* Why do we come to visit South Korea in the thousands every year? Why are we in solidarity with unwed and single mothers and families who have lost their children to adoption? We don’t (necessarily) come back to South Korea because our childhoods were bad (although many were horrendous). We come back to learn the truth about what Korea is in a way that only a visit can. We come to find our families and the truth because the adoption agencies constantly lie to us. We choose to live here for extended times to reclaim our mother tongue. We settle here to change Korean society so no more children are separated from their mothers, fathers, histories and personal truths.

And we organize. Adoption Solidarity Korea (ASK), Truth and Reconciliation Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), and Global Overseas Adoptee Link (GOA’L) were founded by adoptees living in Korea so the thousands who come back every year have a community and support to find their way in Korea and their place in history. We work in solidarity with unwed mothers so families can stay together, despite unjust policies driven by stigmas against the women and their children. We identify as migrants who were forced away from Korea and perhaps compelled to return again as economic refugees or deported Americans, along with the other new face of Korea which is multilingual, multicultural, and more diverse. We hope to transform Korea, and we have the right to do so as Koreans.

Back in the late 1990s the government tried to use us as bridges between our adoptive countries and South Korea. Although I disagree with the assumption that we would automatically feel any obligation to do so, it was clear from the First Lady’s address to us in 1999 that the Blue House was including us in the great Korean diaspora. In our quasi-Korean/foreigner hybridity, we learned tolerance was the least a society owes to its most maligned, even if the right to equality is ignored. We are claiming our birthright as born ROK citizens and making statements about justice and human rights here. Our experiences as foreigners in our adoptive countries and the racism and discrimination that goes along with it has equipped us to fight as citizens even if we have foreigner status on our ARCs.

We had to change laws to get those, too. Although we’re now eligible for F4 visas, which allow us to live in Korea and work (as long as it’s not as a laborer), we had to convince Immigration that we were also overseas Koreans because there was no category for us. You see, we weren’t supposed to return. The marketing worked so well that it became the Truth: we were saved from growing up in a poor country, in poor families. That was the story from the end of the war and continues until 2014. South Korea is now a highly developed country economically, thanks in part to the hard currency we brought in. We were supposed to be fully assimilated into white Christian families and forget we were Korean, grateful for all the West would give to us. Instead, we commit political acts just by living in Korea, by making waves and demanding a change in the laws.

Perhaps because of the returnees like me, Korea will create a template for closing its intercountry adoption program like it has repeatedly promised to do since it was shamed1 as a baby-exporting country. I hope it does, because intercountry adoption is a demand driven industry that hurts Korea. It has retarded the growth of an adequate social welfare state, a major characteristic of a developed society. (We still have childcare facilities, because adoption does not solve child welfare problems.) ICA makes Korea complicit in human trafficking for hard currency it no longer needs. Just as the rest of the world followed Korea’s example into selling away its children, Korea can lead the way out of the ICA industry.

*I use the passive voice here deliberately because the people who were sent for adoption were not the protagonists, but the object of the action.

1”The year 1988 was a turning point in South Korea’s adoption history. The Seoul International Olympics attracted the attention of journalists worldwide about many aspects of Korean culture, and much of thisattention focused on Korea’s primary export: its babies. Journalists like Bryant Gumbel of NBC commented that Korea’s primary export commodity was its babies, and articles like “Babies for Export” (The New York Times) and “Babies for Sale: South Koreans Make Them, Americans Buy Them” (The Progressive), embarrassed the South Korean government. North Korea also criticized South Korea’s adoption program, pointing out that selling its children to Western countries was the ultimate form of capitalism. As a result, the South Korean government delayed the scheduled departure of adopted children before and during the Olympics. And the number of Korean children adopted by American families began to decrease, from over 6,200 in 1986 to just over 1,700 in 1993.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Foreign Koreans in South Korea

When we are abroad, Koreans of the diaspora are seen as assets and opportunity for South Korea. When we return we're liabilities.

South Korea seems to be particularly disconnected from its role in creating the diaspora, and often discriminates against its "foreign" Korean population.

For example, 200,000 of us who live(d) in diaspora were mocked by Saturday Night Live  because of our poor Korean language skills and shallow understanding of Korean "culture." (Which is basically the one that ROK promotes abroad: taekwondo, kimchi, Korean Wave are the extent of Korean culture according to what it promotes overseas.) They of course take no responsibility after sending us out of the country to be adopted to raise hard currency after exploiting and coercing our mothers during the rapid industrialization Yushin period of 1961-1979 through their reproductive and industrial labor.

There's also the 100,000 military wives who are connected to over half of the 1.7 million Korean Americans as the community's immigration as sponsors. However, they're barely mentioned or still a whispered family story, even as the ROK sanctioned and promoted camptowns and keeps renewing the military agreements that keeps US forces in Korea. Their mixed race children are coming back to Korea as ethnic Koreans with foreign passports. Like with almost all populations of Koreans, some of those included in this group were also adopted.

What rights and protections are returning Koreans entitled to as humans and as Koreans? Chinese Koreans, Chosun-jok, are generally looked on warily as illegal workers. Refugees from DPRK are fascinating, but mostly exoticized. Koreans from the former Soviet Union, Koryo-saram, are barely acknowledged. How many Korean Americans are dismissed as Kyopos who don't understand really, Korea? Korean Japanese, the largest overseas Korean community is largely invisible here.
South Korea now has more ethnic Koreans with foreign passports residing in its country than ever before, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice.

The data reveals that the number of ethnic Koreans with non-Korean citizenship increased by 24 percent in 2013 as more than 233,000 such people have now found a home on the Korean peninsula. Among the 1.57 million foreigners residing legally in South Korea, 15 percent of them are of Korean descent, according to the Ministry of Justice.

The hike in numbers was driven largely by a steady influx of Korean Chinese immigrants due to the amendment of immigration laws in 2008, which gave Korean Chinese more benefits and rights.

Just four years ago, Korean Americans residing in Korea outnumbered other ethnic Koreans at approximately 31,700 compared to only about 4,800 Korean Chinese. But the Korean Chinese community is now by far larger than the other ethnic Korean segment, with a population of over 150,000.

In fact, a staggering two-thirds of ethnic Koreans residing in South Korea are Korean Chinese. Korean Americans now only make up 19 percent of the ethnic Korean population followed by Koreans from Canada, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia.

More ethnic Korean immigrants have been relocating to their motherland at a significantly higher rate in recent years as there were only about 50,000 in the country only in 2009. The number rose to 83,825 in 2010, 135,020 in 2011 and 187,616 in 2012 before eclipsing the 200,000-mark for the first time ever.