Adam Crapser hasn’t lived in South Korea since he was adopted by an American family when he was three years old. Now, 37 years later, he’s about to be sent back to a country he feels no attachment to and where he knows no one. All because his adoptive family never did the proper paperwork, and America’s immigration laws do not provide for people like him.
As detailed in a New York Times Magazine article, Crapser and his sister were adopted from an orphanage and moved to America when he was a small child. But his adoptive family never filed for U.S. citizenship for him, nor did the adoption agency that arranged it (his sister, according to the Associated Press, did get citizenship). His parents also ended up giving up on both Crapser and his sister when he was 10. They were separated and went into the foster care system. Crapser ended up being adopted again, this time by a couple who Crapser told NYT Magazine were abusive (and who would be arrested and charged with physical and sexual abuse, for which the father served 90 days in jail and the mother, three years of probation). He was kicked out of their house when he was just 16, and has made his own way in the world since then.
He is now 40 years old, married and a father of three, and, thanks to an immigration judge’s recent ruling, about to be sent back to South Korea at some point in the very near future. He was caught be immigration officials in 2012 when, after finally getting his adoption paperwork from his estranged father, he applied for a green card. He says he wanted to be able to hold a job and support his family. But his criminal record (“I made a lot of mistakes in my life,” he told NYT Magazine) popped up during the necessary background check, and immigration officials began moving to deport him. He’s been fighting it ever since. Now, after a judge ruled that he was not eligible for relief from the deportation orders, Crapser is about to go back to South Korea, thousands of miles away from his wife and children. He could have filed for an appeal of the judge’s decision, but, his lawyers told NBC News, he was so desperate to be out of the detention center that he waived it.
Crapser’s story is not unique. The Adoptee Rights Campaign is full of stories like his — adults left without citizenship because their adoptive parents didn’t file for it when they were supposed to, who are then forced to go back to countries that never were their home, and where they know no one. The lucky ones, like a woman in Arizona who was adopted 32 years ago, have people like Sen. John McCain to advocate for them and get them citizenship backdated to their arrival in America. A law passed in 2000 allowed any adoptee born in 1983 or later to get citizenship if their parents didn’t do it for them, but Crapser is too old for it to apply. The Adoptee Rights Campaign is hoping for a new law that grants retroactive citizenship to people like Crapser, but it’s still winding its way through Congress.
If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that the attention Crapser’s situation is bringing to the law will get it passed. If and when it does, it will also apply to people who have already been deported. There’s a chance that Crapser will get his citizenship in the end, albeit at least 37 years later than he should have.