By Kang Shin-who
An American professor, who was forced to leave South Korea due to a past child molestation conviction in the United States, plans to file a lawsuit against the Korean immigration authorities.
``I will fight against the Immigration Office for my right to return to Korea and take my job back. My university still wants to work with me,'' Mark McDowell, an English professor at Hannam University in Daejeon, told The Korea Times in a telephone interview, Tuesday.
Korean authorities recently discovered that McDowell had been convicted of child molestation in 1996 when he was a middle school teacher in the United States. He was jailed for six months in 1997 for inappropriate behavior with girls under the age of 14.
McDowell has taught English in Korea as a teacher and professor for the last 10 years.
After the Daejeon Immigration Office confirmed his criminal record, he faced deportation in line with the country's Immigration Law. ``A foreigner who is viewed (by the authorities) as highly likely to disturb public order is subject to deportation,'' an immigration officer said.
The authorities put him in a detention center but he opted to leave the country rather than be detained in the center for a month, the period of review for deportation. He hired an attorney to file a ``formal objection to deportation,'' but as the lawyer failed to do so in time, he opted to leave Korea two weeks ago to avoid being detained further.
The professor said he was unfairly treated by the Immigration Office. ``My convictions have been legally expunged, meaning I no longer even have to say I was convicted of anything at all. I have had no trouble in Korea for nearly 10 years. I appeal to Korean people for their support in fighting this evil thing that the Immigration Office has done to me,'' McDowell said in an email.
``I want the people to know the truth, and the horrible way the office has treated me. The office threatened to lock me up for the duration of my `formal objection to deportation,''' he said. ``That's is completely illegal because it can only send people to its detention center if they have good reason to believe that person will flee.''
McDowell is now staying in another Asian nation. He is seeking donations to file a ``Writ of Habeas Corpus'' to challenge the original convictions by hiring an attorney in the United States, which costs over $10,000.
The immigration authorities have not demanded that E-1 (professorship) visa applicants submit proof of the lack of a criminal record, while E-2 (foreign language lecturers) visa applicants must provide this. The government has required E-2 visa applicants to submit documents on criminal record and health checks since December 2007, after the arrest of a pedophile suspect in Thailand who had taught children in Korea.
Many E-2 visa holders have complained that the government should apply the same visa screening rules to foreign English teachers holding other visas. They are calling for the government to use the same restrictions on teachers holding other types of visas such as E-1, F-2 or F-4.