WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Adoptee Citizenship Act has been introduced in the Senate and the House, but its slow progress is threatening for international adoptees raised in the U.S. Designed to protect international adoptees born before 1983 and not covered by the Child Citizenship Act, the new Act seeks to grant citizenship to all qualifying children adopted by U.S. citizens, regardless of the date on which they were adopted. An estimated 18,000 South Korean adoptees, many of whom arrived in the U.S. in the 70’s and 80’s, lack citizenship and are currently in danger of being deported.
In a Slate article highlighting the story of Adam Crasper, an international adoptee, it is suggested that the U.S. has failed international adoptees like Adam. His adopters failed to acquire a U.S. citizenship for him when he entered the country in 1978 as a three-year-old. Worse, they abused and abandoned him; research shows a direct relationship between childhood traumatic events and greater adolescent conduct problems. When Adam was thrown out of the house at 16, he broke into the Craspers’ house to retrieve his belongings from South Korea, and he was arrested. Coupled with a loophole in the current Child Citizenship Act and his list of crimes, he was deported to South Korea on November 17, leaving behind his wife and children.
As the Twitter community exploded with #KeepAdamHome and numerous media outlets published Adam’s story, the Adoptee Citizenship Act remained in limbo. Like Adam’s, the status of many other international adoptees is in jeopardy; their hope of returning home rests in the Adoptee Citizenship Act. But Adam’s story also touches on an expansive, deep-rooted issue in South Korean culture: social prejudice towards single mothers.
After the Korean War in the early 50’s, many biracial children and children born into poverty were sent overseas to the U.S. However, in the 70’s and 80’s, most orphans were born out of wedlock, so many single mothers and children of different bloodlines were shunned. Korea’s Confucianism prized family bloodlines and found raising other peoples’ children to be contemptible.
Recent attempts in South Korea to halt international adoption and keep newborns in Korea have produced new government legislation, but even with a new framework, domestic adoptions have fallen since 2012. When it was first introduced, the system allowed anyone seeking information to find details of a woman’s children out of wedlock, divorces, and other sensitive information, which could have allowed and exacerbated discrimination. In November 2015, the government amended the controversial family registry law to protect the privacy of unwed mothers.
The Economist states that more than 90 percent of adopted babies in South Korea are born to unwed mothers, an indication of the stigma against single-motherhood. However, South Korean adoptees have found success in forming groups to lobby their government. Every year, single mothers also take to the streets to advocate “Single Mother’s Day.” Some South Korean adoptees, like Steve Morrison, have created organizations to positively change Korea’s adoption culture. As more people unite towards a common vision, the possibility of societal change increases.
Even in America, just 12 percent of major employers offered adoption benefits in 1990, whereas nearly 50 percent offer them today. It took America decades to change negative attitudes towards unwed women and adoption. Slowly but surely, South Korea is moving in the same direction.
– Andy Jung