Russell David Green (Lim Sang Keum) was born to a Korean mother and an American soldier and has lived in the United States for over 30 years. He currently faces possible deportation to Korea – a country whose language he cannot speak and where he has no family who recognizes him.
Russell arrived in Massachusetts from Korea as a 12-year-old boy, but after only a few months, his “forever parents” returned him to the adoption agency before his adoption was finalized. He was then placed with a single foster parent living in Brooklyn, New York who exposed him to drugs and abuse. Instead of facilitating a permanent family and home for him as a U.S. citizen, the U.S. adoption system set him up for a lifetime of addiction and vulnerability. It let him fall through the cracks where he has lived under constant threat of deportation.
Russell’s story could be any intercountry adoptee’s story due to insufficient U.S. immigration policies that fail to safeguard children’s rights “to enter and reside permanently in the receiving State” (Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption article 18) and “to acquire a nationality” (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child article 7). Children do not immigrate to the U.S. of their own volition to be adopted. They are transported through intercountry agreements that are designed to ensure their best interests. Powerless, they cannot enforce their rights and are therefore vulnerable to the neglect of a receiving country and its adoption agencies.
Russell and other adult adoptees therefore struggle with legal loopholes, not bad luck. Previous to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, adopted children were not automatically naturalized. A child immigrant arriving to the U.S. became a permanent resident but might be rendered stateless if the sending country revoked her/his citizenship or if he/she was not registered in the country of origin. If the adoptee’s status as a permanent resident was not converted to U.S. citizenship prior to adulthood, then the adoptee could lose permanent residency for infractions such as remaining out of the U.S. for more than 12 months or voting in an election. Moreover, as a consequence of post-9/11 security laws such as the REAL ID Act of 2005, adoptees who are unable to document their identities struggle to access state-sponsored programs and vital care.
Despite these legal entanglements, Russell’s roots in the U.S. run deep. The U.S. is his home where his three children were born and where an elderly couple who have known him for over 25 years regard him as their son. To deport Russell is to break up his family, force him to lose the only home that he has known for the vast majority of his life, and to “return him to sender” to a country that rescinded its obligations to him.