A South Korean Man Adopted by Americans Prepares for Deportation


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Adam Crapser with his daughters, Christal, left, and Christina, and his wife, Anh Nguyen, in the family’s living room in Vancouver, Wash., in March 2015.

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Gosia Wozniacka/Associated Press

Adam Crapser was adopted from South Korea nearly four decades ago, but today he languishes in an immigration detention center in Washington State awaiting deportation because his American parents never filed citizenship paperwork for him.

Mr. Crapser, 41, built a life in Oregon, got married and raised children but will soon be forced to leave the country in which he has lived since he was 3 for South Korea, where he plans to eventually reunite with his biological mother in a small town three hours outside of Seoul, the capital. His family will remain in the United States temporarily, and they hope to reunite in South Korea.

“At this point I’m ready to just go back and try to make my life over there,” Mr. Crapser said on Monday night in a telephone interview from Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, a week after a judge denied his final request to stay in the United States. “There’s been some good things that came out of all this, surprisingly.”

Mr. Crapser’s sanguine attitude toward the wrenching dislocation that looms ahead is thanks in part to the media attention his case has attracted in both the United States and South Korea, he said. A South Korean documentary on his plight and the lives of other Korean adoptees led to his birth mother coming forward.

“I do have a Korean family back in Korea,” Mr. Crapser said. “They’ve been informed that I am returning. It’s good, and it’s bad. It’s kind of bittersweet.”

That promising development is far from a universal experience, however. His lawyer, Lori Walls, said on Monday that Mr. Crapser’s case illustrates how easy it is for permanent residents to be placed in deportation proceedings, even when they entered the country lawfully as adoptees but were not naturalized by their adoptive parents.

According to the Adoptee Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, there are about 35,000 people in the United States who were adopted by American couples as children but who do not have citizenship.

Mr. Crapser had been living legally in the United States under IR-4 documents given to adopted children, Ms. Walls said. In 2001, the Child Citizenship Act automatically made IR-4 holders citizens, but the law was not retroactive — it did not benefit adoptees who were already legal adults. “Adam was over 18 and so missed the cutoff date,” Ms. Walls said.

Mr. Crapser said he first spoke to his family in Korea during a series of FaceTime conversations last winter. He communicated with his birth mother through an interpreter because he does not speak Korean. (He said he planned to bring a tourist phrase book with him when he is deported “so I can read signs and stuff.”)

His American family plans to join him in Korea next year after his wife, a Vietnamese immigrant, becomes a United States citizen. His stepfather in Korea owns a construction company where he hopes to work so he and his family can start a new life, he said.

“That’s hopefully the plan, but it’s not written in stone yet,” he said. “We’re hoping that will end up working out.”

Mr. Crapser’s positive attitude belies the Kafkaesque nature of his life in the United States. The decision to deport him was just the latest trying experience in a span that has been, by any measure, exceptionally difficult.

Mr. Crapser was adopted along with his sister by an American family that physically abused both children, he told The New York Times Magazine for an article that was published in April 2015.

After six years, that family put both children up for adoption again. They were separated, and Mr. Crapser was adopted by new parents, Thomas and Dolly Crapser, who also abused him. They had several other foster and adopted children whom they also treated brutally. In 1992, they were both convicted of criminal mistreatment and assault, and Thomas Crapser was convicted of sexual abuse.

Adam Crapser was kicked out of the Crapser home at 16 and later broke back in to retrieve his personal belongings. He pleaded guilty to burglary and served 25 months in prison.

More brushes with the law followed. After his release, he was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. A couple of misdemeanors followed, and he was later convicted of assault after a fight, The Times magazine reported.

“Because of the chaotic nature of his upbringing, he was not able to document his status,” Lori Walls, his lawyer, said.

Mr. Crapser said he did not realize there was a difference between being a permanent resident and a citizen until he was reunited with his sister, a naturalized citizen, in 2012.

Deportation proceedings began that year, shortly after he applied for residency documents and the authorities learned about his criminal record. The final decision was made on Oct. 24 at an immigration court in Tacoma, Ms. Walls said. Mr. Crapser said Monday that he expected to be deported within the next 30 days.

Mr. Crapser had never held down a steady job for more than 90 days because he could never prove his legal status, he said, something he always chalked up to a chaotic childhood. “I pretty much had to work under the table for most of my life,” he said.

He hoped his fortunes might finally turn around in South Korea.

“I guess in a sense the good thing is that I am a citizen of Korea so when I go back I will already be a citizen of some country,” he said. “I guess that’s where I belong.”

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