As Oregon man faces deportation, he is part of the 16% of Korean-born adoptees never formally naturalised as US citizens and are no longer Korean citizens
On 31 January 2015, there was a harsh knock on Adam Crapser’s apartment door in a sleepy suburb of Vancouver, Washington. Crapser, 39, was in his living room with his pregnant wife, two young daughters and a friend. He slowly opened the door. Standing there were two men with department of homeland security badges around their necks. Crapser began to panic.
The agents told him that he was facing deportation to Korea, his homeland, for immigration crimes.
Crapser was brought to the US in the late 1970s at four years old to be adopted. For the next 10 years, he was tossed around between two different adoptive families, his life filled with abandonment and extreme abuse. Unsurprisingly, his young adult years were spent in and out of the prison system. He beat the odds, however, and now has a stable, calm life. These days, Crapser spends his time with his daughters and the family dog, LG. His wife, Anne, who is pregnant with their third child, is finishing her electrical engineering degree. He desperately needs to find a way to stay in the only home he knows: America.
On 2 April, on his 40th birthday, Crapser appeared before a local immigration court to hear the charges against him read with family and supporters by his side. Crapser is in the crossfire of a longstanding immigration policy battle involving the largest international adoption partnership, which resulted in 111,000 Korean children being adopted to the US.
Crapser faces a unique set of challenges; he is part of the 16% of the Korean-born adoptees who were never formally naturalized. Post-September 11, homeland security became stricter with immigration, rendering these adoptees even more vulnerable to deportation. To make things worse, Crapser was told he is no longer a Korean citizen anymore, effectively rendering him stateless.
Up until 2001, children who came to the US through international adoption were not granted automatic citizenship. Instead, they entered the country on foreign-born adoption visas. At the time of Crapser’s first adoption in 1979, all adoptions were to be finalized in Korea, not the US, with adoption agencies sponsoring a child’s visa for six months. After the six-month period, it was the adoptive parents’ responsibility to formally naturalize the child. But neither the adoption agencies nor the government exercised due diligence, and some parents just never got around to it.
Surviving years of abuse
Crapser was left at a Korean orphanage south of Seoul by his biological mother. That was the first time he was abandoned, but not the last.
Crapser’s first American parents were a Michigan couple. It didn’t go well. “There were a lot of spankings. We would be sent down to the basement all day long, alone,” Crapser recounted. The family relocated to Portland, Oregon, in 1980, divorced shortly thereafter, and in 1985 relinquished Crapser to the Oregon Department of Human Services, where he bounced around from foster homes to a children’s center in Portland.
In 1987, Crapser was adopted by another family, the Crapsers, who lived in Keizer, Oregon. During the previous decade, the Crapsers had adopted and fostered eight special needs children, and had two biological children. The father, Tom, would be sexually abusive, and exert sadistic power over some of them. “He broke my nose at 14 because I couldn’t find his car keys,” Crapser remembers.
In late 1991, the local Oregon police arrested the Crapser couple on 34 counts of rape, sexual abuse and criminal mistreatment, which included extreme physical assault. After months of testimony and deliberation in 1992, the jury found the couple guilty of 12 charges. Crapser was 17 at the time.
Due to such severe abuse, it was no surprise that Crapser was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, as listed on his adoption paperwork. Nor was it a surprise that his emotional problems led to misbehavior. In 1994, Crapser committed his first serious crime: burglary of the first degree. He forcefully entered the Crapser’s home to retrieve clothes and a Korean-language Bible that he carried with him all the way from from his Korean orphanage. Thereafter followed a series of crimes that included theft, possession of a firearm and aggravated assault.
No protection for adult adoptees
A year after Crapser’s burglary, in 1995, a Senate staffer, McLane Layton, became aware of the US adoption citizenship process after adopting two international children of her own. Layton co-crafted a bill, the child citizenship act (CCA), that allowed foreign-born adopted children to receive automatic citizenship.
In early 2001, the CCA was enacted but it only protected those who were 18 and younger on that date, and for future adoptees 18 and under. There was a gap in the policy that didn’t protect Crapser, who was 25 at the time, and thousands of others.
Despite his status, Crapser spent several years trying to turn his life around, attending cosmetology and auto mechanic school. In an effort to get a green card, Crapser says he appealed to his former adoptive father, Tom, to provide the correct paperwork needed. In 2012, once he got the right documentation, Crapser was finally on his way to obtain a green card, and legal status.
However, his application went through a standard background investigation by Homeland Security, and his past criminal convictions were flagged and made him susceptible to deportation.
That same year, an amendment to CCA was introduced in Congress. This change would have fixed the gap and provided retroactive citizenship for all adoptees, but it never passed. “The problem lies with adult adoptees committing crimes,” commented Layton. “It is the criminal acts that is holding up the fix. People can’t get passed it.” What could have saved Crapser and many other adult adoptees from deportation was overlooked in 2001, 2012, and now 2015.
Crapser spent the morning of his 40th birthday attending a preliminary hearing in Portland, Oregon. Local immigration judge, Michael H Bennett, presented Crapser’s amended charges while Crapser’s attorney, Lori Walls, requested additional time to review. His next hearing will be on 18 June , where Walls can present objections to the charges read.
Although Crapser’s fate still hangs in the air, his case has brought the policy gap back to the surface. Adoptee activists, like Kevin Vollmers, of Land of Gazillions Adoptees, have spent the past two months strategizing media plans and gaining political backing to propose a stand-alone bill that would patch the age gap. “We’re pushing to fix an adoption law, not an immigration law,” says Vollmers. Experts on Capitol Hill, however, insist that the CCA falls under the jurisdiction of immigration – a more difficult topic for politicians to legislate on.
Meanwhile, Crapser says he hardly sleeps. He also suffers from high blood pressure, likely from stress. His wife will give birth to another girl in May and this July, they are slated to move out of their apartment into a four-bedroom house in Hillsboro, Oregon, where their eldest daughter will start kindergarten in the fall. “I know I made mistakes,” Crapser says. “But I have a family now, that I am accountable for. ”
“He was under the watch of the state and they placed him in the Crapsers’ household,” adds Walls, Crapser’s attorney. “Now the country wants to wash their hands of him.”