Immigration is a murky subject and therefore difficult to talk about. The topic grabbed headlines during our election cycle — as Donald Trump ranted about rapists, registries, and “extreme vetting” — but even these incendiary remarks eventually settled into the silt of 2016’s detritus-strewn sea floor. Trump’s clumsy discussions of the immigration system failed to reflect the fact that while our policies are in need of attention, the system isn’t completely broken. Though it may come as a surprise, the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has held steady for five years, down from 2007.
For decades, our government has wrestled over how to establish clear pathways for immigrants to become U.S. citizens. It’s an important piece of the puzzle (and in line with our foundational values). When it comes to immigrants convicted of crimes, the picture grows fuzzy. After all, this country has a lot on its plate. The prevailing attitude seems to be that any illegal immigrant cycling through the justice system is a strain on resources of the nation and our capacity for compassion is thereby limited. But is that view simplistic to the point of recklessness? In the case of Adam Crapser it seems to be.
Crapser was adopted from South Korea as a three-year-old after being left at an orphanage by his mother. The situation at his first home in the U.S. was miserable — he recalls fighting, neglect, and abuse. After six years, his first set of adoptive parents gave up Crapser and his sister, splitting them apart and removing they boy’s only sense of stability.
After bouncing around foster homes, Crapser landed with Thomas and Dolly Crapser. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire. The couple had 10 other foster children in the house and were physically and mentally abusive. Adam tells stories of having his mouth taped shut with duct tape, his head hit with a 2×4, and his hands burned.
“A lot of these adoptees were physically, emotionally, and sexually abused,” explains Jenny Kim, a friend and advocate for Crapser. “I feel that between the state and the federal government, they failed gravely.”
Eventually, the Crapsers were charged with rape, multiple counts of child abuse, assault, and criminal mistreatment.
As a teenager, Adam Crapser’s problems continued. He was kicked out of the house and bounced around homeless shelters in Portland, OR. His life was disconnected and disjointed. Grasping at some sense of a personal history, he broke into the Crapser’s residence at age 16.
“I ended up breaking into my parents home,” Crapser admits, “to get my Korean bible and my rubber shoes from Korea.”
He was arrested, served jail time, and was later released. More law trouble followed — a firearms charge, several misdemeanors, and an assault stemming from a fight with a roommate. But eventually, things started to turn around. Crapser was not a career criminal. He wasn’t habitually violent. He married, had children, and started looking for long-term employment.
Therein lay the rub: Adam Crapser had never become a U.S. citizen — none of his various guardians bothered to apply on his behalf. Neither had the agency that brokered his original adoption. In 2012, after a battle to get relevant paperwork from Thomas Crapser, Adam applied for his green card. This move prompted a background check by the Department of Homeland Security and the felony convictions showed up as red flags. Soon, the process was underway to have Crapser deported.
After 38 years, Adam Crapser was going back to South Korea — a country he’d never visited since his adoption. He would have to learn the language and find a job. He’d have to get housing and reapply for citizenship. Once again, he would be separated from the people he cared about most.
“I would consider myself an American,” Crapser told us, days before his deportation. “I have kids that depend on me. I have a family. I have to work my butt off to get them over there, so we can continue to have a life.”
If this situation sounds like a rare anomaly, well… it is. The Child Citizen Act of 2000 ensured that adopted children would receive automatic citizenship, but the act wasn’t retroactive and Crapser was already a legal adult when it went into effect. This is what it means when someone “falls through the cracks of the system.”
“Now I have to try to become the most believable Korean I guess I can be,” he said, the pain audible in his voice.
It’s easy to be callous about a man who’s been convicted of multiple crimes, but Crapser and his advocates make the case that he’s facing double jeopardy. He had alrady served hard time and paid his debt to society. Now he was being punished again. It was cruel and unusual — particularly for someone who was treated so brutally by the system.
On November 17th, Crapser arrived in Seoul. He met with his birth mom, who had given him up because she was physically disabled.
“When he first arrived was extremely brutal,” Jenny Kim explains. “When he landed I think it hit him that he was in a foreign country. He went through a period of anger. Now, he’s trying to make the best of it. He just got an ID — which was a big deal because he left the United States with no papers. He has housing until the end of the month, but his hopes of living in the U.S. are over… unless he were to be pardoned.”