Justice for Russell Green and Unnaturalized Adoptees and Fosterees
by: Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Ph.D.
On November 13, 2012, an immigration judge in New York City ruled not to deport Amerasian fosteree Russell David Green (born Lim Sang Keum) who is a father to two sons and one daughter currently serving in the U.S. military. Russell’s removal case is one of several to emerge over the past year and to attract transnational concern from the Korean adoptee community.
In 1980, Welcome House International placed Russell at the age of 12 with a family in Massachusetts who disrupted his adoption before finalizing it. He was then transferred to New York and into the care of a single foster parent who promised to adopt him but who failed to do so. Instead, he exposed Russell to drugs and abuse and did not sponsor Russell's naturalization.
Before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, intercountry adoption and naturalization were two separate procedures. The parents or legal guardians of adult adoptees vulnerable to deportation either did not understand the paperwork due to inadequate agency support or neglected to file the forms prior to their adopted children's 21st birthdays.
Whether inadvertence or outright negligence, this oversight has chilling lifelong consequences for an unnaturalized person sent to the US for the purpose of adoption. According to Ronald Crane, who is a father to Russell, “Much of Russell's story has been the lack of paperwork…[He] is nobody! He couldn't open a bank account. He couldn't get a driver's license…The adoption and foster care system responsible for Russell's welfare didn't do the little bit of paperwork that it should've done, and now he's paying for this in every possible way. His very humanity is being taken away from him.”
From August 2011-August 2012, Adopsource sponsored a transnational advocacy campaign led by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, assistant professor of English and Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College, to stop Russell's deportation and to inform the public about citizenship issues effecting transnational/transracial adoptees. Global Overseas Adoptees' Link along with 23 international organizations and 30 adoption community leaders and allied scholars signed a letter to President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders such as Senator John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urging an end to the removal of intercountry adoptees and fosterees who through no fault of their own had not been naturalized as children.
Although Russell's legal victory is encouraging to adoptee and allied community, his deferral does not set a legal precedent for other intercountry adoptees or fosterees vulnerable to removal. Since 9/11, immigration judges increasingly have little leeway to consider individual cases, and the Convention against Torture (CAT) is one framework that provides some discretion. Under the CAT, the judge ruled that Russell, an Amerasian with debilitating health issues originating from his camptown childhood, would experience cruel and degrading treatment at the acquiescence of the Korean government if he were deported. Whether the CAT would similarly apply to other intercountry adoptees or fosterees, particularly those of full-blooded origin, is highly questionable.
However, intercountry adoptees, fosterees, and parolees who have yet to be naturalized share Russell’s continued need for an effective amendment to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. Citizenship should attach to all adults who were sent to the U.S. for the purpose of adoption regardless of whether their adoptions were disrupted prior to finalization. Otherwise, the amendment risks compromising on lives like Russell’s who are adult fosterees or Babylift-era parolees just as it did back in 2000 when it favored easily identifiable “good subjects”—children adopted by Americans—over more complicated “bad subjects,” adult adoptees, for automatic naturalization.
The struggle for citizenship for all persons sent to the U.S. for the purpose of adoption is of international concern. In response to Indian adoptee Kairi Shepherd’s removal order, the Indian media urged U.S. officials to stop her deportation. In Korea, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently reported that citizenship paperwork for 18,000 children placed in American homes had not been returned. Along with an additional 5,000 children sent to Europe, Canada, and Australia, 1 out of 9 Korean adoptees might lack citizenship from their adoptive countries.
As Korea works to develop care solutions for removed adoptees and fosterees arriving in Seoul, it should intensely pursue short-term and long-term solutions with receiving countries to stop the deportations and to naturalize the 1 in 9 adoptees in question. If Russell’s legal victory is any kind of indicator, improved welfare in Korea for removed adoptees and fosterees further narrows the already slim ground on which an adoptee or fosteree might argue to remain home.