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South Korean Adopted At Age 3 Is To Be Deported Nearly 40 Years Later

South Korean adoptee Adam Crapser poses with his 1-year-old daughter, Christal, in the family's living room in Vancouver, Wash., in 2015. Crapser, who was flown to the U.S. 37 years ago and adopted by an American couple at age 3, has been ordered deported back to South Korea.
Gosia Wozniacka
South Korean adoptee Adam Crapser poses with his 1-year-old daughter, Christal, in the family's living room in Vancouver, Wash., in 2015. Crapser, who was flown to the U.S. 37 years ago and adopted by an American couple at age 3, has been ordered deported back to South Korea.

Adam Crapser was brought to the United States when he was 3, to start a new life — new parents, new culture, new country.

But his adoptive parents didn't complete his citizenship papers. Then they abandoned him to the foster care system.

And now, as a 41-year-old father of four, he's being deported. Despite his appeals for help, he has been ordered to be sent back to South Korea, a country The Associated Press describes as "completely alien to him."

His predicament is the result of parental failings, a criminal past and acts of Congress.

First, his adoptive parents never obtained citizenship for him.

"They promised that they would take care of these things, and it never happened," he told NPR in 2015.

He's not alone in that: One Korean-American advocacy group estimates some 35,000 people in the U.S. were adopted from abroad and don't have U.S. citizenship, the AP reports.

Then, after an abusive childhood, Crapser served jail time for crimes including burglary and assault.

The New York Times Magazine took an in-depth look at Crapser's story last year. The report explained what happened to Crapser and his sister after they were brought to the U.S.:

"The first family that adopted Crapser and his sister fought viciously and punished the children frequently; Crapser remembers being whipped and forced to sit in a dark basement. After six years, the couple decided they no longer wanted the children they had adopted and the siblings were split up. Crapser bounced between foster homes and a boys' home before landing with a family in Oregon.

"His new parents, Thomas and Dolly Crapser, had a house full of foster and adopted children, as many as ten at a time. Their punishments, too, were frequent and even more brutal than his first adoptive parents'. Dolly, Crapser says, slammed the children's heads against door frames and once hit him in the back of the head with a two-by-four after he woke her up from a nap. Thomas duct-taped the children's mouths shut, Crapser says. He also burned Crapser's hands and once broke his nose when Crapser couldn't find Thomas's car keys."

Thomas and Dolly Crapser didn't return the Times' calls requesting comment, but they were convicted on charges of abuse, including mistreatment and assault.

Adam Crapser's criminal record began after he was kicked out of the Crapsers' house. He broke back in — to try to steal back his possessions, including shoes and a Bible, he says — and was convicted of burglary. After serving time and being released, he racked up several other criminal offenses, including assault.

The Times says Crapser later turned his life around, spending stints as a barbershop owner and in the insurance industry. He married and had several children; more recently, he was a stay-at-home father. But, the Times says, it was hard for him to hold a job without citizenship.

Here's where Congress comes in.

As Alexandra Starr reported for NPR last year, a law was passed in 2000 to grant automatic citizenship to children adopted by U.S. parents. But the law "only covered future adoptees and those 18 or younger," Starr reported. "One of the people who didn't make the age cut-off was Adam Crapser."

So Crapser had to apply for a Green Card to start down the path toward citizenship. When he did, his criminal convictions bumped up against a second law.

Starr explained that in 1996, "Congress vastly expanded the list of offenses that could result in deportation from the United States." Then, after the attacks on Sept 11, 2001, the government "started enforcing immigration law more zealously."

Federal authorities who received Crapser's Green Card application realized he was deportable because of his criminal convictions, the AP reports.

Crapser fought to stay.

The Oregonian reported on Crapser's efforts in court last year. The newspaper quoted some of his pleas:

" 'I'm responsible for my actions, and I've done my time,' he said. 'Please, just listen to the details. ...

" 'I want to be here. I want to stay here. So I just ask everybody to just please, you know, have some leniency on me. ... All I want to do is be the best American I can be. I don't want to be this broken, screwed-up guy. Just don't take me out of the United States.' "

Since then, Crapser has spent nine months in a detention center in Washington state, separated from his family. On Monday, he waived an appeal because he is desperate to get out of detention, his lawyer Lori Walls told The Associated Press.

Walls explained the immigration judge's verdict and the result to the AP:

"In an email, Walls said Adam was eligible for a deportation reprieve called 'cancellation of removal,' but the 'judge decided he did not deserve this relief.'

" 'He will be deported as soon as Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes the necessary arrangements,' Walls said. 'Adam, his family, and advocates are heartbroken at the outcome.' "

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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