An Evanston couple fighting to adopt a South Korean baby whom they've raised since shortly after her birth was dealt a setback Monday when a federal judge returned authority over the child to U.S. officials, a step toward the child's possible deportation.
U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur made it clear that he trusted that officials would make decisions in the baby's best interest, scolding federal immigration lawyers for "a level of insensitivity and sometimes even callousness" in the past.
Shadur said it is up to the Office of Refugee Resettlement to decide whether 7-month-old Sehwa Kim should remain with Jinshil and Christopher Duquet, of Evanston, while immigration officials decide whether she should be deported, and if so, when.
But it remained unclear what next steps would be taken in considering the child's temporary and permanent placement.
A spokeswoman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — not the ORR — will decide whether Sehwa will remain at least temporarily with the Duquets.
"ORR plays no role in the adjudication of this particular custody case," a department spokeswoman said. "We have nothing to do with immigration."
Homeland Security officials could not be reached.
South Korea has been fighting for the child's return, accusing the Duquets of circumventing their adoption procedures.
The Duquets, who say they were misled by a South Korean lawyer and thought they were participating in a legal private adoption, declined comment.
Customs officials at O'Hare International Airport flagged the child's entry into the United States in June when Jinshil Duquet brought her from South Korea. The officials said Sehwa lacked the proper visa for a prospective adoption.
"The child has a right to her Korean heritage," said Donald Schiller, a Chicago attorney who represents South Korea. "(Sehwa) will overcome it. She'll have a wonderful, loving family."
The couple appeared in Cook County Circuit Court before the federal hearing Monday after filing an application to adopt Sehwa. The judge assigned a legal guardian to represent the child, but it's unclear if that process can proceed, given the federal government's involvement.
"It's a very sad, a very tragic day for the Duquets, for justice and for concepts of fairness," said Jonathan Minkus, a lawyer representing the family.
The child's birth mother lives in a shelter for unwed mothers and does not want the baby back.
The Duquets maintain that the baby is being used as a political pawn in South Korea, which has tightened laws regarding international adoptions while encouraging its own citizens to adopt. Despite policy changes, there remains a cultural stigma against adoption, leaving many children in orphanages, experts firstname.lastname@example.org