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A sad ending for deported adoptee

A portrait of Phillip Clay, a deported Korean-American adoptee, is displayed at his funeral, Tuesday, in Myongji Hospital, Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. He allegedly committed suicide, Sunday. / Courtesy of Simone Eun Mi

Korean-American's death reflects hardship facing adoptees

By You Soo-sun

A deported Korean-American adoptee was found dead in an apparent suicide in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, officials said.

Phillip Clay, 42, was found dead around 11:40 p.m., Sunday, outside an apartment building in Ilsan, according to officials from Global Overseas Adoptees' Link (G.O.A'.L), a non-governmental organization run by adoptees in Seoul.

While a police investigation is underway, surveillance camera footage reportedly showed he was alone in the elevator when he went up to the 14th floor of the building he jumped from, alluding to suicide.

The funeral was held at Myongji Hospital by Holt Children's Services Inc in Korea. Around 30 people attended his funeral, including representatives from adoptee organizations such as KoRoot and Adoptee Solidarity Korea and the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

According to AK Salling, secretary general for G.O.A'.L, he was not well known by the adoptee community in Korea. On Wednesday, however, a Christian ceremony took place at the same hospital, where other adoptees visited.

Clay was deported from the United States to Korea in 2012. Adopted by an American family at age 10, Clay never attained American citizenship, a common problem that generations of Korean adoptees face in the U.S. His difficulties, however, did not end there. He was deported to Korea in 2012 and suffered from psychological issues, a prevalent feature in the lives of many adoptees.

"In Korea, there's not a huge awareness of mental issues. It's a serious factor because of the upbringing and traumatic events we go through in our lives are hard to process," said Adam Crapser, another deported Korean-American adoptee.

He was one of the few that went to both the funeral and the ceremony.

"It's hard to live a productive life," he added.

Crapser relates to Clay in many ways. Like Clay, he was never given American citizenship; and like Clay, he was deported back to Korea, a country he had not lived in for decades.

After his deportation in 2016, he stayed in an immigration detention center for nine months, and then had to make a life for himself in Korea during the past six months.

"It could be me tomorrow," he said, referring to Clay's death.

Although his deportation came from lack of citizenship in addition to a criminal record, his ordeal is not uncommon for many adoptees in America.

AK Salling, 44, is an adoptee who returned to Korea in 2013 from Denmark. Since her return, she has volunteered and worked for organizations that support adoptees. For her, Clay's struggles and death reflect the need for government to step up in providing a better safety-net for vulnerable groups including adoptees.

"This is a wake-up call that we need to look at post adoption services that are being provided," she said.

"We need to ask ourselves if they are sufficient and if they include everybody."


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