Local, 50-year-old woman finds out she isn't a legal citizen

Monday, August 15, 2016
Legal adoption
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An adoptee born in Korea needs legal help to become a U.S. citizen.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houstonian Joy Alessi first came to the United States way back in 1967.

An American couple adopted her from a Korean orphanage when she was just 7-months-old.

She grew up in California and lived a typical American life.

At the age of 25, Alessi decided to get a passport only to encounter a big problem.

"I was flabbergasted. I had the documents," said Alessi. "I only had the documents from my adoption. By those documents, they determined I was not a legal citizen."

Alessi was adopted at a time when foreign-born children were not automatically granted American citizenship.

Since 2001, adoptees are entitled to citizenship which leaves an estimated tens of thousands of people like Alessi in legal limbo. They could try and go through the naturalization process.

It can a lengthy and costly proposition.

Washington D.C. Attorney, Kelsey Yoon says that she is fighting to get the "Adoptee Citizenship Act" passed in Congress. It's currently stalled in Congress.

The bill would grant citizenship to adoptees like Alessi. Yoon calls the measure a quick fix which would right a wrong.

"Before we can try to increase the number of adoptions or make sure we have more adoptions occurring, we really need to make sure that we are taking care of those who we have already adopted into this country," said Yoon. "U.S. citizenship as many Americans know is a huge part of identity and a sense of belonging. I think that's a huge factor of the bill as well."

Alessi turns 50-years-old this month and plans to return to Korea in September.

"I have never been back," said Alessi. "This will be my first time returning to Korea since I left as a baby."