At the age of 3 months old, Emily was adopted from South Korea in 1964. Emily is one of the thousands of children who were adopted by U.S. military families and raised as Americans. Emily’s father, a World War II veteran, and her mother, a stay-at-home mom living with polio, were even featured on an episode of This is Your Life, a popular television show that featured the lives of real-life Americans in the late-1940s.
Growing up, Emily and her adoptive parents always believed she was a U.S. citizen. The U.S. embassy in Seoul told Emily’s parents that their daughter would become a citizen upon adoption. Emily paid her taxes, worked in the aerospace industry, got married, and had a son.
In the 1980s, she discovered she wasn’t a citizen after committing a shoplifting crime. When she was 48 years old, Emily was diagnosed with a severe spine disease that makes it impossible for her to work. Upon applying for disability, she learned she was ineligible because she was not a U.S. citizen. Emily was issued an order of deportation in 2000.
Although she has fulfilled her legal obligations to the justice system and paid her debt to society, Emily has been living with the fear of being separated from her family, her home, and her country–the only one she has ever known.
Despite paying taxes for decades and growing up believing she was a U.S. citizen, Emily does not receive any benefits or protections of citizenship. As an adoptee without citizenship, Emily cannot qualify for disability, or unemployment insurance.
Emily will require a surgery for her spine. However, without citizenship she is ineligible for government support and disability. As a disabled adoptee without citizenship living with an order of deportation, Emily is uncertain of her future especially because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
For Emily, adoption to America represented the security of a family, a permanent home, and access to needed medical care. As a child, she was rushed onto an emergency flight to the United States due to her urgent medical condition. However, as an adult, the current laws on adoption and immigration deny Emily that same security.
“My father always told me he would never leave a soldier behind so I will fight to bring every adoptee home because I know it would make him proud…Everyday I pray for justice for all of us. I thank God every day he gives me the strength to never give up and to continue to fight for the rights for all international adoptees.”