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Evanston couple battling 2 countries over adoption

Court to decide whether South Korean baby will be deported

By Lisa Black and Bonnie Miller Rubin / chicagotribune.com

January 13, 2013

Increasingly desperate, Christopher Duquet paced a Chicago courthouse hallway Friday, hoping his lawyers could somehow still persuade authorities from two countries to allow him and his wife to keep the baby they brought home from South Korea seven months ago to adopt.

A legal guardian appointed to advocate for the girl agreed with Duquet in one respect: that if the child is forcibly removed from the Evanston home where she'd spent almost all her life, she should not be moved more than once.

"If she is moved now, she will be moved again, and possibly again," said Maria Woltjen, director of the University of Chicago's Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, adding later: "Multiple moves are very traumatizing to children."

Using a last-minute maneuver as their legal options seemed to be running out, Duquet and his wife, Jinshil, filed a new petition in Cook County Circuit Court this week asking to formally adopt the baby, whom they named Sehwa.

Though a judge agreed to set a hearing for Thursday on that request, by then the question could be moot: Yet another judge, this one in federal court, could rule as early as Monday on whether the couple will have to hand Sehwa over to U.S. immigration officials — a step toward her possible deportation.

The Duquets say they thought they were entering into a legal private adoption in Korea when bringing the baby home in June but relied on bad advice from a Korean lawyer. The baby's birth mother and grandparents relinquished parental rights to the Duquets and do not want the child back, officials agree.

But Korean officials say the couple circumvented Korean laws by failing to go through a licensed adoption agency.

"One of the reasons for Korea's intense interest in this case is there are 200 loving families … waiting to adopt a child just like this one here," said Sarane Siewerth, a lawyer representing South Korea. "Sehwa was taken out of Korea improperly."

The Duquets argue that, despite their mistakes, it is in Sehwa's best interests to remain with them.

Immigration officials already removed her for 10 days in November, saying she did not enter the country with a proper visa. But a federal judge ordered that the girl be returned to the couple while her status was considered in Cook County court.

South Korea and other countries have in recent years tightened laws on foreign adoptions to prevent trafficking and abuse, and the Korean government has provided new incentives for domestic adoptions. But experts say many Korean children remain in orphanages because of a cultural stigma against adoption and unwed motherhood.

"They represented that there are all these people waiting in Korea for this baby," Christopher Duquet said. "That is just not true. They have a dysfunctional system there where these babies aren't being adopted. That is why this birth mother asked us to take care of Sehwa."

Russia imposed an adoption ban last month in a move widely seen as retaliation for a new American law punishing Russians accused of human rights abuses. Meanwhile, more than 650,000 Russian children remain in orphanages and foster care, according to news reports.

On Thursday, Kremlin officials announced the ban would not take effect until 2014.

Still, one North Side woman trying to adopt a child from Russia said she is not optimistic, despite the new development. After a five-year journey of infertility and jumping through bureaucratic hoops, she and her husband were set to travel to Russia next month to adopt a girl.

"The glimmer of hope was short-lived, unfortunately," said the woman, who hoped to bring home a sister for her school-age daughter.

Her emotional roller-coaster continued Friday when she said she was on a call with the State Department for prospective parents in the process. Even people who had court dates in Russia as soon as Monday were still unsure of the status of their adoptions.

Julie Tye, president of The Cradle, an Evanston adoption agency, offered words of warning to families who want to adopt a child from another country.

"If you find a way to do an adoption in a way that no one else seems to have done, you have to ask yourself this question: 'Do I know something that nobody else knows, or do they know something that I don't know?'

"When it comes to adoption, especially international adoption, the path less traveled is probably the one to be avoided," Tye said.

2013 Jan 13