Slate: “When Adoption Stories Don’t Have Happy Endings”

by Joseph McKeown

Adam Crapser was adopted at age three from South Korea. His first adoptive family in the US “fought viciously and punished the children frequently,” and when Adam was nine, his adoptive parents decided they no longer wanted the children. They placed him in a foster home, separating him from his sister, and Adam ended up in Oregon with new adoptive parents Thomas and Dolly Crapser, who also reportedly abused him. According to Adam, among many other horrific things, Dolly Crapser “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.”    

Adam was thrown out from the Crapsers’ house when he was sixteen. When he broke into the house to retrieve items he brought from South Korea—a Bible and rubber shoes—he was arrested and spent more than two years in jail. After he was released he got in more trouble, including misdemeanors, assault, and unlawful firearms possession, among others. After he served his time he began to turn his life around, holding down jobs, marrying, and having kids. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I’m not proud of it,” Crapser tells the New York Times. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way.”

There was, however, a major problem. Crapser wasn’t a US citizen, since neither his adoptive parents nor the adoption agency that brokered his arrival in the US had ever filed for his US citizenship. Citizenship was not automatic for international adoptees until 2001, and then only applied to adoptees born after February 27, 1983. Crapser was finally able to get his adoption paperwork and applied for a Green Card but the case triggered a Department of Homeland Security background investigation, which turned up his old convictions and a criminal record that made him subject to deportation.

Which is why on November 8 this month after spending months in immigration detention he was put on a plane and flown back to South Korea, likely never to return to America. He left behind his wife, children, and friends. Crapser is not the first international adoptee to be deported. Adoptees from all over the world, including Brazil, India, Mexico, Germany, and elsewhere have been returned to their birth countries when it was discovered they were not US citizens and had issues relating to their Green Card applications. The Adoptee Rights Campaign estimates that some 35,000 international adoptees, adopted before 2001, are thought to be without citizenship.

Maureen McCauley Evans, a parent of international adoptees, writes in Slate:

It’s tempting to say that Adam and other adoptees in his situation brought deportation on themselves and their families by committing crimes—certainly many in Congress take that position. But it misses the point. International adoptees were brought to America with the permission and oversight of the United States government. The deal was that they would be welcomed here, to have a brighter future as Americans for the rest of their lives…If we believe adoptees to be genuine members of American families, they do not deserve deportation. If we don’t believe they are genuine family members, then adoption loses its meaning and integrity. What’s more, the US loses its honor and breaks its promise to these legal immigrants adopted by US citizens.

A bill, called the Adoptee Citizenship Act, is designed to provide retroactive citizenship to international adoptees, but it has made slow progress through Congress, and its outcome doesn’t look promising.

Crapser was reunited with his mother in South Korea. The last time she saw him was when she left her three children at an orphanage after her husband left her and she was unable to afford raising the kids. “I missed them, especially when it rained or snowed or when the sky was overcast,” she tells the New York Times. “But the belief they were having a better life somewhere sustained me.” Crapser says: “I was told to be American. And I tried to fit in. I learned every piece of slang. I studied everything I could about American history. I was told to stop crying about my mom, my sister, Korea. I was told to be happy because I was an American.”