From Orphan to Activist, Art by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom

Monte Haines “Deported”: Excerpt from The Unknown Culture Club

In Adoptee Stories, All, Book Excerpts by KAW

You are not allowed in my country. This is my country. This is my land. I want you out of it.

United States Immigration Judge

Korean Adoptees, Then and Now

My American name is Monte Haines, and my Korean name is  Han Ho Kyu. At age eight, I arrived in Iowa almost 6500 miles from Seoul, South Korea. Long golden cornfields and woodlands of elm and hickory covered this earthly terrain. Basement ramblers strewn about vacant neighborhoods fronted by freshly mowed lawns thanks to John Deere tractors, replacing South Korea’s city-cemented streets—streets I had been used to roaming. I felt like I  was left stranded in the middle of a foreign land. I was scared and had no idea where I was.  

From the agency, employees sent me to my first adoptive family: Mr. and Mrs. Hormmans, a white couple with two older boys. The whole family had various colors of hair, just like the land’s earthy terrain. One of my first memories is the way everyone stared at me when I arrived. They just kept looking at me strangely.  

I was given a small room to sleep in, and all went pretty well for the next couple of months despite the language barrier. Then it started: the physical, mental, and sexual abuse. This went on for about six months to a year. My adoptive father used to hit me if I didn’t do what he wanted. I attended school with black and blue bruises on my arms and my back. If anyone asked what had happened, I claimed I had fallen down the stairs to protect my adoptive father from getting into trouble.  

Sometimes, my adoptive father locked me in the closet without food and water. They left me there all day—sometimes for many days. On some bone-chilly Iowan winter days, they made me undress and sent me outside completely naked, tied my hands and feet to two trees, and hollered for their two black Doberman Pinschers to nip at my legs as punishment, or they shouted for the dogs to chase me around the house. When I came home late from school one day, my dad yanked my right foot and broke one of my toes as punishment. This abuse persisted until a teacher called the Child Protection Agency to investigate the family. Authorities removed me from my adoptive parents’ home and sent me to foster care.  

I stayed in five different foster homes. The living quarters were crowded, and I mostly slept on the floor. I felt like tossed around garbage—like they didn’t want me at all. I hid in inconspicuous spaces and remained out of sight for as long as I could.  Eventually, the social workers found a family who wanted to adopt me, but they weren’t allowed because they had too many kids, including a son named Monte. I did stay at the house for a  while, but I was eventually sent to another foster family.  

July of 1981, Holt International Children Services sent me to  Mr. and Mrs. Haines. At the age of eleven, I stood in front of a  judge and was legally adopted by them. I gained an adoptive brother named John, who was five years older than I, and like a  real brother, we did everything together. We formed a real friendship. I assumed that this family would be good for me. I finally found a family who wanted me, and I was happy. 

My assumption of the happily-ever-after adoption disappeared when I attended school. The students called me names and made fun of me. I ran out of the building and found a place to hide. While crying, I thought, what did I do wrong? Why am I  so different from the other kids?  

During the summer, my nightmare came back to haunt me.  Mr. Haines, my new adopted father, a man with a good reputation within the community, abused me physically, mentally, and sexually. After coming home from playing outside, my dad hit me with a breadboard so hard that I blacked out. Other times, my dad crept into my room at night and crawled into bed with me. I endured this for a long time. He also abused my older adopted brother.  

My dad kicked my brother out of the house when he was sixteen years old, and I didn’t get to see him for a very long time.  I was only eleven at the time and now the only child left in the household. As a consequence, all the abuse was then focused on me. My mom was too scared to leave or to call the cops. If I didn’t mow the lawn, rake the grass, and do other chores correctly,  my adoptive father would slam my head against a concrete wall.  This seemed to go on all the time. My mom couldn’t handle the abuse and finally divorced him.  

My adoptive father moved himself and me to Colorado, along with a friend and his mom, who moved in with us. It seemed like the living conditions were going well until, one day, a  police officer pulled me from class and told me that my dad was arrested for child abuse against my friend and me. My friend’s mom called the cops. 

I had to leave Colorado to live with my adoptive mom. I  didn’t get along with her very well due to being previously abandoned by her, but she treated me better than my father did. I ran away from home and headed for the airport, trying to go back home to Korea, where I belonged. 

After I had graduated from high school, I enlisted in the  United States Army. Because the military enlistment did not require proof of US citizenship, I never doubted my status as a US  citizen. I served in the Gulf War for three and a half years and lost many friends there. When I returned to civilian life, it was hard for me to sleep at night. I woke from nightmares, and I  couldn’t forget the images of war. Some people call this Gulf War  Syndrome or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

After the military, I found a job as a truck driver. On February 27, 2001, my driving partner and I were assigned to take a  load to the East Coast. When I came to the checkpoint, the authorities were waiting for us. My driving partner didn’t tell me he had planted drugs in the truck’s trailer.  

I spent my time in a jail cell where I was locked up full-time, in prison, and also in an immigration holding detention center.  Inside, there seemed to be around thirty Korean adoptees at the risk of being deported. I learned later that every state has these detention centers. In each one of these, you’ll find ten to twenty  Korean adoptees standing by to be deported back to Korea. 

My older brother, John, and I fought my case to the best of our ability and the point of exhaustion from explaining my defense. Eventually, I gave up hope and told him to stop helping me. I knew it was a lost cause. 

On December 25th, 2005, I was released on house arrest and required to report monthly to the US Immigration and Customs  Enforcement (ICE), a Department of Homeland Security. I was required to go to Houston, Texas, where the Korean consul was located, to obtain a passport. There, I was not allowed to leave the state. I was told my name was not recorded on their computer. 

“What?!” I was shocked. “Why not?”  

“Your situation is kind of strange to us,” the man from the  Immigration Office told me.  

I asked again, “Why?” 

“You’re adopted but not a US citizen,” he said. Completely shocked, I was like, “I am a US citizen. I was adopted in ’81. The law says if you’re adopted by an American citizen, you are an American US citizen.” 

During my visit, I  asked, “Why can’t you help me?”  

His only response was that he was afraid of Homeland Security.  

I returned to my American home empty-handed and lived out of my car. Fortunately, I found a job with a construction company and regularly reported to the ICE office while applying for a passport to Korea.  

My older brother, John, killed himself with a shotgun on August 20, 2008. The trauma for me was unbearable, and I didn’t report to ICE that month as required. When an immigration officer called me, I simply stated, “I didn’t report because my  brother died.” 

Only two months later, officers in full SWAT uniforms barged into my room—a garage turned into a living space— pointing handguns and M16 assault rifles at me while shouting, “Get on the ground!” as if I had been a convicted terrorist. They pushed my knees onto the floor, handcuffed my wrists together, and ushered me back to a detention center. I was accused of threatening a deportation officer, but they didn’t believe me when  I told them this was not true. Instead, I was thrown back into a  cell with the door locked behind me.  

When I stood before the Immigration Judge, he scolded me: 

“You are not allowed in my country. This is my country. This is my land. I want you out of it.” 

On November 4, 2009, I was deported back to Korea, wearing only jeans and a T-shirt. I had only twenty dollars on me, couldn’t speak the language, and didn’t know where to go. All forms of my identification and personal documents were confiscated. My escorts, four men and one woman dressed in civilian clothes, basically dropped me off at the Incheon Airport and left me there on the gray tarmac more than six thousand miles away from everything I knew for almost forty years. Forever gone were the strewn-about basement ramblers, long golden cornfields, and woodlands of elm and hickory. Rather, South Korea’s city-cemented streets—streets I would roam as a homeless person— replaced the John Deere tractor-mowed lawns. Grey, low winter clouds chilled me to the bone. Again, I felt stranded in a foreign land. No longer able to speak the Korean language, I was scared and had no idea where to go. 

MONTE HAINES, Contributor of The “Unknown” Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now