When Adam Crapser was three years old, an Oregon couple adopted him from South Korea. His life in America has been bleak at times. But Crapser, 41, probably never imagined his difficulties would lead to deportation back to the country he left as a toddler.
Yet, to his surprise, he’s not a U.S. citizen. It turns out his adoptive parents never filled out the forms.
An immigration judge recently handed down a final deportation order for Crapser. His attorney, Lori Walls, says they don't plan to fight it.
“It would mean that Adam could be detained for another year or so. His freedom was more important to him than the hope that we’d win an appeal,” Walls said.
Crapser, who’s married and a father of four, has been held at an immigration detention center in Tacoma since February. The family was living in Vancouver, Washington, at the time of his arrest.
In court documents and media reports, Crapser has talked about his rough childhood. The couple who adopted him, gave him up at age 10. He later lived with foster parents who were convicted of abusing the children in their care.
He’s been homeless a few times and racked up a criminal record. His first charge was burglary, for breaking into a previous foster home to retrieve some personal items, including a Bible.
As an adult, Crapser started trying to track down his personal documents, mainly to show employers his proof of citizenship.
“For years he was trying to get the paperwork from the adoption agency, from the second set of parents … and he could not get help to document the fact that he was a lawful permanent resident,” Walls said.
Crapser eventually obtained proof of his legal status, but Walls said his pursuit of a green card triggered immigration officials to intervene. Crapser's criminal record flagged him as a priority for detention and possible removal from the U.S.
There's been strong public outcry about the potential deportation of someone who was legally adopted and eligible for citizenship. More than 40,000 people signed a petition against Crapser’s deportation, which Walls presented in court. Meanwhile, immigration officials stand by the decision to pursue his case.
“ICE targeted Mr. Crapser for enforcement based on the severity of his criminal history, which includes multiple prior convictions for serious and violent offenses including assault, being a felon in possession of a weapon, and third-degree domestic violence,” said Rose Richeson, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson in Seattle.
Crapser’s case highlights what some consider a loophole in federal law. In 2000, Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to children adopted by American parents. It also covered adoptees who were 18 or younger at the time. Older adoptees, like Crapser and an estimated 35,000 others, miss the age cutoff. A bill now pending in Congress would retroactively grant citizenship to this group of people.
“It’s too late to help Adam, but at least it will help other adoptees,” Walls said.
Walls expects Crapser will depart to South Korea within a few weeks. She said he faces a tough road ahead but he’s trying to make it work, even learning a bit of Korean from a fellow detainee.
"He’s just incredibly resourceful and he’s turning his attention to this next step in his life, trying to imagine himself there and trying to do what whatever he can to prepare himself.”
Walls said Crapser's wife and children also hope to reunite with him soon in South Korea.
As Crapser's immigration saga closes, there is perhaps a silver lining. His story is big news in South Korea, too, and a woman there has come forward as his biological mother. DNA tests confirm it’s a match.