Adam Crapser’s Bizarre Deportation Odyssey

Adam Crapser’s Bizarre Deportation Odyssey By MAGGIE JONES APRIL 1, 2015


[Adam Crapser, right, in 1985. CreditCourtesy of Adam Crapser]

This past February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers knocked on an apartment door in Vancouver, Wash., looking for a man named Adam Crapser. A 39-year-old former barbershop owner and auto-insurance claims estimator, Crapser was now the married stay-at-home father of three children, with another baby on the way. He lived a mostly quiet life, playing the guitar and ukulele, looking after a rescue dog and taking his children to the park and the science museum. But the ICE agents at the door were there to inform him that the agency was opening deportation proceedings that could send him to South Korea.

Crapser was born Shin Song Hyuk, to a mother described in his adoption papers as “Amerasian.” When Crapser was 3, he and his older sister were abandoned and ended up at an orphanage three hours outside of Seoul. A worker there noted that Crapser cried often, played alone and wanted his sister in his sight at all times. After five months, he was on his way to a new home in the United States, along with his sister and a handful of possessions: a pair of green rubber shoes, a Korean-language Bible and a worn stuffed dog.

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. Neither Thomas nor Dolly returned my repeated phone calls to discuss Crapser’s account, but the state ultimately did charge the couple with dozens of counts of child abuse, including rape, sexual abuse and criminal mistreatment; they were convicted in 1992 on several counts of criminal mistreatment and assault, and Thomas was convicted on one count of sexual abuse, though he served just 90 days in prison.

When Crapser was 16, he got in an argument with Dolly over using the phone, and Thomas kicked him out of the house. He moved into a homeless shelter, then stayed on friends’ couches and, finally, in his car. Then, one day, he broke into the Crapsers’ home in hopes of reclaiming the few remaining bits of his past life in Korea: his rubber shoes and his Korean Bible.

Police arrested Crapser after he broke in through a window. He pleaded guilty to burglary and served 25 months in prison. Once he was back on the outside, his troubles continued. Not long after his release, he was found guilty of unlawful firearm possession. A couple of misdemeanors followed and, later, an assault conviction after a fight with a roommate. Two years ago, he violated a protection order taken out against him by an ex-girlfriend with whom he had a child, by trying to telephone his son. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I’m not proud of it,” Crapser told me last week. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way.”

But recently Crapser has worked to get his life on track. He married, became a full-time dad and began trying to settle into a long-term job. The problem was that, legally, he couldn’t hold one. None of Crapser’s adoptive parents, nor the adoption agency that brokered his arrival in the United States, had ever bothered to file for his U.S. citizenship.

After years of fighting, he was finally able to get his adoption paperwork from Thomas Crapser and in 2012 applied for a green card. Those applications typically trigger a Department of Homeland Security background investigation, which in Crapser’s case turned up his old convictions — a criminal record that made him subject to deportation.

It’s a Kafkaesque episode: Crapser’s various crimes may have warranted the punishments he received, but deportation to a country in which he had barely lived? In fact, Crapser has company. No one knows exactly how many international adoptees in the United States don’t have U.S. citizenship; in some cases, adoptees don’t find out themselves until they apply for federal student loans, try to get a passport or register to vote. But at least three dozen other international adoptees have also faced deportation charges or have been deported to countries like Thailand, Brazil and South Korea.

Adoption experts in South Korea — the world’s top exporter of children for American adoption at the time that Crapser was sent to the United States told me they know of at least 10 to 12 deported adoptees in the country, including one who served in the U.S. military. In 2000, a 22-year-old Brazil-born, Ohio-raised adoptee named Joao Herbert was deported from the United States after he was caught selling 7.5 ounces of marijuana. Four years later, he was shot dead in the slums of Campinas, a city just north of São Paulo. According to a newspaper report at the time, the killers were drug-dealing teenagers who Herbert had sought to help smuggle guns in order to raise the money he needed to sneak back into the United States.

Congress tried to address the problem in 2000 by passing the Child Citizenship Act, which granted automatic citizenship to children adopted by U.S. citizens. But the law only covered adoptees who were under the age of 18 when it went into effect. The omission left adult adoptees vulnerable to an immigration law passed by Congress a few years earlier, which allowed the federal government to deport noncitizen immigrants who were found guilty of any of a wide range of “aggravated felonies.” Under immigration law, those crimes includes battery, forged checks and selling drugs.

With so much at stake for their children, why wouldn’t parents have filed citizenship papers? In some cases, outright neglect was to blame. But in others, parents didn’t understand that their children didn’t automatically become citizens when they finalized the adoption. Other parents simply put off dealing with the cumbersome paperwork.

One woman I spoke with told me that her adoptive mother, who had raised eight adopted children in all, died of breast cancer before she could file the application for her daughter’s citizenship. (To protect her privacy – she fears more attention from ICE – the woman asked me not to identify her or the country in which she was born.) In 2012, a few years after she was convicted of writing forged checks, ICE ordered her deported, and although the agency ultimately didn’t follow through on the order, it has also never officially closed the case, she told me. She now lives in a legal limbo, unable to get a green card or a driver’s license or to travel outside the country.

A South Korean Man Adopted by Americans Prepares for Deportation By LIAM STACK and CHRISTINE HAUSER NOV. 1, 2016


[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. Credit 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.”

Korean Mother Awaits a Son’s Deportation to Confess Her ‘Unforgivable Sin’ By CHOE SANG-HUN NOV. 16, 2016


[Kwon Pil-ju, the biological mother of Adam Crapser, at home in Yeongju, South Korea. Credit Jean Chung for The New York Times]

YEONGJU, South Korea — Kwon Pil-ju is trying desperately to teach herself English before she is reunited in the coming weeks with a son she sent away almost 40 years ago.

“I have so much to tell him, especially how sorry I am,” she said, sitting in her bedroom, which doubles as her kitchen, in her one-floor rural home in Yeongju. “But I am at a loss, because I don’t know English and he can’t speak Korean.”

Her son is Adam Crapser, 41, a Korean adoptee who is awaiting deportation from an immigration detention center in Washington State because he lacks American citizenship, even though he has lived in the United States since he was 3 years old. Last month, an immigration court denied his final request to stay in the United States.

Until Mr. Crapser’s fate was reported in a documentary broadcast by South Korea’s MBC-TV last year, Ms. Kwon did not even know that the son she gave up in 1978 had been in the United States.

As it turned out, the boy she called Shin Song-hyuk was one of 200,000 South Korean children sent abroad for adoption since the end of the Korean War, most of them to the United States.

South Koreans have lamented their country’s international reputation as a leading baby exporter. But in a society that held deep prejudices against single mothers and children born outside marriage, and that shunned domestic adoptions, sending children abroad was often the best option for poor South Korean women. Adoption agencies solicited their babies, promising better lives abroad.

In recent years, however, some have returned to South Korea as adults, reporting adoptions gone wrong.

Some of the most wrenching stories have come from those who were deported back to South Korea. Like Mr. Crapser, they were abused or abandoned by their adoptive parents. Only after they ran afoul of the law did they learn that they were not American citizens, their parents having never filed citizenship paperwork for them. Mr. Crapser pleaded guilty to burglary after trying to break into his adoptive parents’ home to retrieve his belongings, and was later convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and assault.

Officials at South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare say they know of at least five adoptees who were deported back from the United States. But advocates for Korean adoptees say there may be more than twice as many, some undocumented.

Tossed back to a country they had left decades ago, these adoptees were once again foreigners struggling to adapt to an unfamiliar culture and language.

The television documentary that reported Mr. Crapser’s plight also included the story of a 44-year-old adoptee named Monte Haines, or Han Ho-kyu, who served in the United States military in the 1990s. He was deported to South Korea in 2009 after he was caught driving a truck carrying illegal drugs. Some adoptees had severe mental illnesses and became homeless when they returned to a country that was never truly their home.

At least Mr. Crapser has a birth mother waiting for him.

Ms. Kwon, 61, spends hours filling ruled pages with the letters of the English alphabet, copied down in a shaky hand. It’s slow going for a woman with no formal education, but she wants to be able to explain herself to her son.

“I have never imagined that he was having this hard life of his,” she said, wiping away tears. “I should have kept him even if we starved together. What I did was an unforgivable sin.”

When she was a child, Ms. Kwon received acupuncture therapy that went horribly wrong, leaving her left leg shriveled and paralyzed. Her alcoholic father sent her to live with a man with cerebral palsy. A year and a half later, she met a carpenter with whom she had three children: a daughter and two sons, including a boy born in 1975, Shin Song-hyuk, who would become Adam Crapser.

The carpenter often kicked and punched Ms. Kwon, she said, and he eventually abandoned her and her young children.

Ms. Kwon could not pay her rent. Her father was too poor to take her and her children in.

In 1978, she gave her youngest son to a childless family. She took her daughter and Song-hyuk, then 3, to a local orphanage that arranged adoptions. She saw her children playing with toys and other children, and left without saying goodbye for fear they would follow her.

“I know it sounds like an excuse, but I had no one to turn to for help,” Ms. Kwon said.

After giving her children away, Ms. Kwon worked in a plastics factory in Seoul. She kept a couple of black-and-white photos of her children. She would remember the days when she fetched water from the village well — spilling so much because of her leg that she had to make multiple trips — to give her babies a bath, or the times when they devoured what little food she could provide, usually rice mixed with soy sauce and cooking oil.

“I missed them, especially when it rained or snowed or when the sky was overcast,” she said. “But the belief that they were having a better life somewhere than I could ever provide has sustained me.”

Ms. Kwon later married a widower 20 years her senior. She said she had dedicated herself to caring for his two daughters as if they were her own, believing that she was doing what adoptive parents were doing for her own children. She also gave birth to four more daughters, now all in their 30s.

Her husband died years ago, and her grown children have moved away. She now lives in a low-slung house with another man, whom she married and who helped her raise her daughters. As she got older, she began using crutches or an electric wheelchair when traveling outside. In her room, when she moves, she drags a plastic chair to lean on for support.

Last year, Ms. Kwon got a call from a relative who remembered Song-hyuk and had watched the television documentary. In it, Mr. Crapser called out for his birth mother.

“Remember, Eomma, I am always your son, your flesh and blood,” he said, using the Korean word for mom.

Ms. Kwon contacted the documentary’s producer, Kim Bo-seul, who arranged a video chat between the mother and son, and a DNA test to confirm their relationship.

Mr. Crapser, who has a wife, a daughter and two stepdaughters, communicated with his biological mother through an interpreter. He expects to be deported in the coming weeks and will reunite with his mother, who plans to decorate a small room in her house for her son.

Ms. Kwon said she had trouble sleeping, thinking of what she would tell her son and what she should feed him when he arrives.

“I am still poor, but I owe him a lot of love,” she said.


[A picture of Mr. Crapser at Ms. Kwon’s home. She knew him as Shin Song-hyuk.CreditJean Chung for The New York Times]

These articles are from