TACOMA — A federal judge in Tacoma has ordered the deportation of an Oregon man who was adopted from South Korea 38 years ago.
“I thought I was a citizen,” Adam Crapser said.
But Crapser is not a U.S. citizen, and the father of four now sits locked up at the Northwest Detention Center, a private immigration prison in Tacoma. He is awaiting deportation to South Korea, a country he doesn’t remember.
“It’s been really surreal,” Crapser said.
To understand his current problems, you have to hear about his past.
Crapser and his older sister were adopted from South Korea when he was 3 by a couple in Oregon. That couple abandoned the siblings years later, splitting them up.
“I had lice, scabies, patches of hair missing out of my head. The mom threatened to throw me out from a two-story window,” Crapser said.
Crapser says his second adoptive parents, Dolly and Thomas Crapser, abused him as well, starting just two days after he arrived at their home in Salem, Oregon.
“Wet the bed and got paddled; it was piece of cutting board,” Crapser said.
Crapser says the abuse lasted for the entire five years he stayed at the home.
“Crazy, crazy stuff,” Crapser said.
The couple had adopted many kids by then and by 1992 Thomas Crapser was convicted of dozens of child abuse charges, but served only three months in jail.
“He was able to get off pretty easily,” Crapser said.
When Adam Crapser broke the rules, it was a different story.
“I didn’t know I could get in big trouble,” Crapser said.
As a teenager, Adam went back to the Crapsers' home, breaking in to find his belongings.
“I wanted my adoption papers, I wanted my rubber shoes and Bible that came from Korea,” Crapser said.
He never found those items. Instead, he got 25 months in jail for the burglary.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” Crapser said.
He is the first to say he is not perfect. After jail, he got into trouble with the law several more times but he says his life was turning around. He once ran a barber shop, got married and had children.
“I’ve got little kids who depend on me,” Crapser said.
The 41-year-old only found out last year after reuniting with his sister that he wasn't a U.S. citizen so he applied for a green card. That's when the Immigration Customs Enforcement flagged Crapser.
He was a lawful permanent resident but his adoptive parents never filed the proper paperwork to make him a citizen. Currently there is a federal law that gives adopted children automatic citizenship but it does not apply to Crapser.
“President Clinton signed it into law but unfortunately that law had an arbitrary cutoff date,” Becky Belcore with Adoptee Rights Campaign said. The law does not apply to adoptees born before 1983.
Adam's attorney, Lori Walls, says Immigration Judge John O'Dell had the option not to deport her client but chose to, based on his criminal record. Immigration judges can deport undocumented immigrants and people who are lawful residents if they break the law.
Q13 News tried to reach out to O’Dell but a spokesperson with the Department of Justice on Tuesday says judges cannot comment on rulings.
“I had 50,000 signatures on a petition to keep me here; they didn’t look at any of it, just my criminal record,” Crapser said.
The Adoptee Rights Campaign is fighting to make sure what happened to Crapser doesn't happen to anyone else.
It's fighting for a bill in Congress to amend the 2001 law to include all adopted children, not just the ones born before 1983. The group hopes to get the bill passed by the end of this year but it’s too late for Crapser, who could be deported by the end of this weekend.
There are 35,000 people adopted into the U.S. from other countries who are not citizens. Of the 35,000, about 18,000 people affected are from South Korea.
Walls says adoptive parents for one reason or another haven't filed the proper paperwork. Some cases are due to neglect but many involve cases where adoptive parents were not aware of the process.
Adoptee Rights Campaign says adopted children like Crapser came to the U.S. with green cards or visas that expire when they turn 18.
Many adoptees find out that they are not U.S. citizens after trying to apply for a loan or a passport or from other events that come later in life.