The Universal Asian had the opportunity to chat with Monte Haines to hear about his incredibly painful adoption story that sadly ended up with him being left houseless and penniless upon being deported back to the country he was originally stolen from.
Having only come across Monte Haines through all the noise surrounding "Blue Bayou (2021)," we were not quite prepared for the full story that he was about to share with us. He sat in his small apartment, which is provided by the Korean government, and took us through his story of tragedy after tragedy to the present moment.
A 4- or 5-year-old Han Oh Kyu, now Monte Haines, was outside playing in South Korea and somehow got disoriented trying to find his way home. While lost, he was snatched off the street, and taken to a police box where he was subsequently sent to an orphanage as he didn’t know the names of his parents to be able to go home. He stayed in the orphanage for about six months before being sent to the U.S. in 1978 to be adopted through Holt International, for which he says they received USD 45,000 for his abduction in 1981. Haines also states that throughout his ordeal, Holt International has been absent and has denied that any wrongdoing occurred related to his adoption origins.
Without knowing where he was going, why he was on a plane, or who the people were when he arrived, his nightmare in the U.S. began.
Upon arrival, the people who were meant to help and take care of him put Haines in a closet, fed him bread and water, and regularly gave him a beating all over his body with a tree branch. One particular recollection he shared was a time in the winter when he was taken out of the closet, stripped down, chained to a pole with the dog allowed to nip and bark at him. This inhumane treatment went on for over a year.
Although allowed to go to school, Haines was warned not to say a word about what was going on at home, and to make excuses about falling down or getting bit by the dog if it ever came up. So, he spent most of his time on his own without friends trying to hide everything going on at home; until one day, when a teacher touched him while he was sitting and he jumped, which caused the teacher to raise the alarm. The teacher had also noticed that he wasn’t going out to eat with the other kids. So, when another touch on the shoulder by the teacher caused Haines to jump, they raised his shirt to see all the black and blue marks all over his body. As he had been instructed by his guardians, he said that it was the dog and all the other excuses he had been told to say.
Despite his claims, the teacher and school did not believe him, so Child Protective Services (CPS) was waiting for him when he arrived home after school that day. Haines was transferred to a foster family immediately. Even as a 6-year-old, he was confused as to what was happening and was still afraid that he would get in trouble if he said anything even though CPS was there to presumably help.
His stay in his first foster family lasted five months. Then, Haines thought there was some hope when his second foster family wanted to adopt him. Cruelly, fate was unkind and they weren’t able to adopt due to an unfortunate coincidence of their biological son sharing the same name as Haines. Even so, he stayed for about a year and a half, during which time he was happy and comfortable.
Sadly, he was sent to another foster family where he stayed for another year and a half and then was moved again to a third possible adoptive family in Nebraska. Finally, on July 15, 1981, Monte Haines was officially adopted.
Relief at finding a perfect lasting home did not stay long.
By this time, Haines was about 10. It was five or six months after his adoption that his adopted brother (A-brother), who was going to college and also an adoptee, got kicked out of the house by his adoptive father (A-dad). It was later revealed that his A-brother was being abused by their A-dad. Once his A-brother moved out, Haines’s A-dad moved on to him with the physical, sexual, and mental abuse. For seven years, he endured being beaten. He recalls getting hit over the head with a board and having his head slammed against a concrete wall when he went to help out at the family restaurant. This led to a hospital visit for a concussion where he would go in and out of consciousness.
The situation continued until 1988 when his parents divorced. At that time, despite having the chance to live with his adoptive mom (A-mom), Haines chose to stay with his A-dad out of fear that he would get worse treatment if he wasn’t living with him. Unfortunately, “I made the wrong choice," as it was even worse when he and his A-dad were on their own. Some days he couldn’t walk because his A-dad would break his toe or put out cigarettes on his feet. Haines showed us the scars on his arm from being cut open by twigs with thorns that his A-dad would rake across his flesh.
Haines escaped from the abuse when, one day, the police came to the school to tell him that his A-dad had been arrested for child abuse. He was sent on a plane to his A-mom’s, but even though he still loved her, he blamed her for being taken away from his A-dad. So, he rebelled until he realized that the reason his A-dad had been arrested was for abusing him. Once he learned the truth, he apologized to his A-mom.
Despite all that was going on at home, Haines continued going to school and channeled his energy toward his studies, which resulted in him graduating early and starting college ahead of his peers. However, around the time of the first Gulf War, he decided to drop out of college and join the military instead. He said that he was moved to fight for his country.
Haines went to basic and advanced individual training (AIT), where he gave it his all and did well. However, he soon regretted his decision to drop out of college. Despite his success in his training, Haines faced racial discrimination and bullying once he entered his unit. He was the only one getting hazed, pushed around, and spoken to with anti-Asian racial slurs. Although he believed that those in the military were supposed to be equals and not see color, he was never included in social activities because he “didn’t look like them [the others].” Haines never said anything about the racism and bullying since it was something he had faced from a young age. Instead, he endured the military conditions for three and a half years all the while wondering why it was happening to him. Still, he did his tours in Kuwait for his country believing he was a U.S. citizen—after all, he had a social security number, driver’s license, etc. The only thing he didn’t have was a passport since serving in the military meant he didn’t need one while he was on active duty.
After getting out of the military in 1996, Haines worked in security for a while. Eventually, he moved onto a truck driving job. It was through this job that his bad luck worsened and he found out that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.
According to Haines, he was going through a border control checkpoint on a truck driving job. Upon handing over his manifest and paperwork, the guards requested to open his truck. He refused, as was in accordance with company policy. The guards insisted, but he continued to state he needed permission. By the time he was able to get down from the truck, the border patrol had opened the truck and arrested him claiming they had found 1,750 lbs of weed in his truck. Caught completely off guard, as he had only picked up the truck from his company yard with no knowledge of what was in it, he didn’t know what to do. He went to county jail on a drug possession charge for the night. The next day, he went to court where he stated that the border patrol lied to the judge claiming that Haines had said it was okay to open up the truck. Despite his rebuttal, his public defender did not succeed in keeping him from being sent back to jail. After three or four days inside, immigration officers came to inform him that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. He was confused as to how that could be since he had all the paperwork and had even served in the military, and they refused to accept any of it as proof of citizenship. After two months in county jail, Haines was then sent to federal penitentiary for three years to serve his drug possession conviction. Then, he was transferred to an immigration detention center.
When asked how he felt at what seemed to be the lowest point of his life—even more so than surviving abuse in his homes—Haines replied that he was just asking himself over and over: “What did I do to deserve this?” “I didn’t even choose to come to this country, but still served and put my life on the line for it. I felt betrayed by everyone who was supposed to be supporting me.”
Even still, this wasn’t the worst of it, Haines said. He was kept in an immigration detention center in Haskell, Texas while waiting for a court hearing with an immigration judge, and was told that if he left voluntarily, then he could return to the US in 10 to 15 years. He agreed to do so. However, unbeknownst to him, his A-brother had hired an immigration lawyer, which ultimately prevented him from taking the deal to leave voluntarily.
Although his lawyer argued that he fell under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 and should automatically be considered a U.S. citizen, the judge denied the claim. Regardless of any arguments presented to his right to be considered a U.S. citizen, the judge refused to accept his status and said “this is his [the judge’s] country and [Haines] didn’t belong there.” This made Haines question if he would ever find anyone to be on his side as everything and everyone so far was against him.
Finally, in December 2005, he was released, but was required to check in every month with immigration to report on his progress in getting the necessary travel documents to return to Korea. When Haines went to the Korean consulate in Houston, he was told that they didn’t know who he was as he was not registered anywhere in the Korean system. In response, the U.S. Immigration Office told him that he either had to go to Korea or find another country to go to.
Throughout everything, he continued working to earn money. He found a job in construction and continued checking in with immigration as he was figuring out what to do.
Furthermore, all this time, Haines and his A-brother had kept in touch and talked openly about what had been going on with their abusive A-dad. One day, his A-brother decided to confront his A-dad about the abuse. Although Haines had offered to go with him, he went on his own, so Haines went to work the next day. Before he had a chance to talk to his A-brother, he got a call from his A-mom with the news that his A-brother had shot himself. His only ally in his life had killed himself.
This was a crushing moment when Haines questioned if he was cursed, that bad of a person, or jinxed to have all these things happening to him. Again, he asked himself: “What did I do to deserve this?” He questioned what he did wrong and what he should do now that his closest and only ally in life was no longer there. Haines, left with PTSD and depression, isolated himself from everyone and everything. Finally, he pulled himself out of it by thinking about what his brother would have wanted.
It was during his grieving period that he missed his monthly immigration call. As soon as he returned to work, ICE agents came to his workplace in full gear to get him. He thought that he was going to wind up killed as they told him that he was being charged with threatening an ICE agent when he asked them to leave him alone to deal with his brother’s death.
On October 27-28, 2009, he was taken to the immigration office in handcuffs and put into the Dallas Ft. Worth County jail for a couple of days. Then, he was told he was being deported. Somehow, ICE was able to give him a temporary travel document to return to Korea. On November 4, 2009, Haines was escorted at gunpoint by five ICE agents to the airport check in and left dressed in only shorts and a t-shirt with USD 20 in his pocket, and the travel document they gave him.
Upon landing in Korea, Haines again wondered if anything good was going to come to him. He couldn’t speak Korean and he didn’t know where to go. He hadn’t eaten anything other than “nasty” airline food for two days. He wandered aimlessly around Incheon airport for almost a week without eating or knowing what to do and having nowhere to turn.
Somehow, Haines managed to get a ticket on a bus, but didn’t know where he was going or where he would end up. He got off the bus with no idea of where he was or what to do. In his shorts and t-shirt and travel document in early November in South Korea, he walked around, slept in a subway station, and finally bought a subway ticket to Yeouido. By this point he had depleted his USD 20 and did not have the means to eat nor a place to sleep. So, he found enough boxes to put on the ground and cover him. He rummaged through trash cans to eat and survived for three weeks sleeping under a bridge in the cold wearing only his shorts and t-shirt.
After a while, Haines realized he could call collect to the U.S. and told his mom what had happened. She gave him a church contact. Somehow, he found the church and got his first reprieve. He recalls that he had water and steam coming off of him as he literally defrosted on the ondul (floor heating system). The contact gave him warm clothes, some money, and a temporary place to live in a missionary apartment. From there, he was able to open a bank account with his travel document and put the money she had given to him in it. Haines was also able to get a cell phone and started looking for a job despite not having a resume.
Luckily, from that point forward, he has been able to work. First, he managed to get a job teaching English over the phone for about a year. He happily moved on to working in a restaurant in 2012 at a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant with no resume needed. Later that year he was contacted to be interviewed by SBS, who had found out about him through someone at the church. His was the first that SBS had heard of such a story. Haines was a pioneer in raising awareness around deported Korean adoptees.
During his interview with SBS, Haines said that he unloaded everything. He was able to unburden himself because someone was actually listening. Although he had held out hope for more help from this interview, even now, nearly 10 years later, in 2021, he is just surviving and trying to figure out how to make it with no help from the U.S. side, and little help from the Korean government. While he gets some help with his housing, he lost his restaurant job due to COVID-19, which has sent him again into a downward spiral of wondering if life is ever going to improve.
His outlook at 50 is bleak. He shared that he lost his sense of humor years ago. His health is failing from PTSD and stress. He said that he has nearly given up a couple of times, but he continues living because he now finds strength in being able to spread the word about deported adoptees.
Through it all, Haines’s strength and conviction to stay the course as a responsible and honorable human being shines through despite the adversity he has faced.
When asked how someone could help him, he replied that he needs financial aid to help him pay his bills and eat.
If he were able to get himself financially situated, Haines expressed that he would work to bring the struggle of deported adoptees and the reality of the lack of support from the States and their home countries to light.