Phillip Clay, Deported Korean Adoptee, Reported to Have Died By Suicide

I have seen this tragic news on several Korean adoption-related sites, including ASK Korea and Global Overseas Adoptee Link in Korea, which issued this press release on Facebook:


Phillip Clay, a Korean American adoptee, who was deported back to Korea in 2012, was found dead on Sunday (21st) around 11:40 PM outside of an apartment building in Ilsan downtown about 35 minutes away (by bus) from his place. CCTV shows that he was alone in the elevator when he went up to the 14th floor from where he jumped.
His American adoptive parents as well as the US embassy have been notified.
All research shows that adoptees are overrepresented in statistics on mental health issues and suicide.

The funeral is hosted at Myungji hospital by Holt Adoption Services, the adoption agency that facilitated his adoption. Representatives from Korea Adoption Services (중앙입양원) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare 보건복지부 as well as several representatives of overseas adoptees from NGOs working with adoptees paid their respects.

“Philip was not well known in the community of overseas adoptees living in Korea and did not have a lot of friends here but his suicide affects us all deeply as we all came from the same circumstances and it could be anyone of us who chose to take our own life. Choosing to take your own life because you do not see any other way out to ease your pain and to die alone like this MUST affect anyone who hear about it,” said AK Salling, Secretary General for Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A’.L), an NGO run by adoptees in Seoul. “Sadly, adoptees didn’t get a chance to be involved in the funeral arrangements but we do urge adoptees to attend the funeral to pay their respects. The coffin will be carried by adoptees so at least in his death he will be surrounded by people who understood him, his own kind.”

He had a difficult life but this is not an isolated incident and must not been treated like an isolated case. Hopefully his tragic death will bring about some positive change in the outlook on adoption, post adoption services and the impact deportation has on an individual.

Adam Crasper, another deported adoptee, who arrived in Korea last year, also paid his respects today: “I am grateful to be part of a small group of adoptees and likeminded souls contributing to the betterment and welfare of the Korean adoptee community. I am because we are.”

(명지병원 3호선 화정역 line 3 Hwajang station area)
Although Philip was not a practicing Christian, Wednesday May 23rd at 1:00PM there will be a Christian ceremony at the hospital.

Any adoptees who wish to attend can gather at the G.O.A’.L office 10.30am and go to the hospital together. After the ceremony, at 5pm, G.O.A’.L will have a small wake at the office in Digital Media City, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Worldcup-bukro 44gil 37, 5th floor.”


I do not know what demons Philip Clay may have struggled with. The American Academy of Pediatrics did a study finding that adoptees are four more times like to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Many people have written about the connection of adoption, trauma and suicide.

Neither do I know why Phillip Clay was deported. It is likely that he committed a felony (and served his time), did not have U.S. citizenship, and thus was deportable under immigration law. He did not have citizenship perhaps because his adoptive parents failed to get it for him. I understand he was in his early 40’s, so likely arrived here in the 1970’s, well before 2000, when citizenship became automatic for adoptees 18 and younger (though there is still significant paperwork involved). I have written many times about the need to provide all international adoptees with citizenship, to keep them from being deported. Korean adoptee Adam Crapser was the one most recently in the news, but there have been dozens deported from many countries. There are estimates of thousands of adoptees without citizenship. An adoptee from Guatemala recently learned she was not a U.S. citizen when she applied for a driver’s permit. All adopted persons need to have their Certificate of Citizenship.

The United States has failed far too many internationally adopted children (who grow up!) by not automatically providing citizenship to them. Legislation has been pending in our U.S. Congress for quite a while to confer citizenship on adoptees who arrived in the United States prior to the Child Citizenship Act. The Adoptee Rights Campaign and many others have been working for years to get legislation passed.

It is a matter of fairness: when internationally adopted children join their new families, they deserve all the rights and responsibilities of legal family members, as sons, daughters, sister, brothers.

May Phillip Clay rest in peace.


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

11 thoughts on “Phillip Clay, Deported Korean Adoptee, Reported to Have Died By Suicide

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  2. Very sad and heart-wrenching story! It’s painful to know Phillip Clay’s life ended in such a tragedy. There should be a law to grant US citizenship to all adoptees regardless of when they were brought into this country. Deporting them back to their motherland is not making any sense at all since they don’t belong there anymore nor do they have anyone who can claim them as their family. I wish Phillip didn’t take his own life and see changes he could bring for himself and others who suffer what he’d gone through. Despair can kill someone at heart and destroy one’s life completely. If he had faith in God, he would’ve have strength and hope to live another day. To know there is another life far better than here on earth

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  6. As a parent of Korean adoptees this is so sad. We had both of our children naturalized with U.S. citizenship and have a hard time understanding why adored parents did not do this.

  7. It’s so upsetting that we don’t promote family preservation as a long-term suicide-prevention strategy. We do what we can in other arenas, but not that one. 🙁

    • Excellent point. I’ve long argued that family preservation should always be the first goal in child welfare advocacy. Support services and resources around mental health and addiction issues need much more bolstering, something I am fearful about with the current administration.

      Further, I think as long as the fairy tale-happy ending narrative remains popular as the only possible outcome for adoption, the struggles will continue. If we balance it with the realities of grief, loss, and struggles for identity, then we could have more room for suicide prevention. And I get that some individuals weigh in heavily on the happy side, and some tilt over to the deeply troubled. Access to nonjudgemental and adoption-competent therapists, as well as decreasing the stigma of asking for help (both for parents and adopted persons), could change outcomes dramatically.

    • So true! Unfortunately, nothing will change until people start recognizing that adoption is trauma and start believing the effects of the separation between a child and his natural mom. Because people aren’t acknowledging it, adoptees don’t receive the proper mental health care they need.

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