Korean adoptee faces uphill battle to stay in U.S.

Complex case swings on criminal record, adoption loophole

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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PORTLAND — The case of Adam Crapser, the Vancouver man who is fighting deportation to South Korea, has been continued until October. But Crapser and his attorney both emerged from a Thursday morning hearing at a federal immigration court saying that they can see high hurdles ahead.

“Think broadly” about seeking any way around Crapser’s long criminal record, the always-smiling judge Michael Bennett advised attorney Lori Walls. While Walls is contesting or denying the claims behind some of those convictions, Bennett said he wasn’t sure an immigration court was the place to sort it all out.

Crapser was first adopted from a South Korean orphanage by a Michigan couple who eventually relinquished him back to authorities, after which he was adopted by the Oregon family that gave him his new last name. But neither family ever naturalized Crapser as an American citizen, and the latter situation fell apart when the parents were convicted in 1992 on multiple counts of child abuse against several adopted children.

In the years that followed, Adam Crapser has said, he committed crimes while trying to survive on his own, and served time for it. But because he never became a naturalized American citizen, he remains subject to federal immigration law that makes non-citizens with criminal records subject to deportation. Early this year, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up at Crapser’s door in east Vancouver and informed him that deportation proceedings were underway against him.

On Thursday, Walls said she was going to pursue numerous possibilities for Crapser — from leniency on the part of the government, which could just decide to “walk away” from the case, to an application for asylum, based on new information that Crapser’s mother may have been of mixed race and suffered for it in her South Korean homeland.

If Crapser’s more serious criminal convictions stick, though, then asylum may not be available to him, Walls said. But it still may be possible to establish his status as a crime victim in his own right, she said, and stop deportation proceedings against him that way.

“It’s going to be an uphill argument all the way,” Walls said. “If we are eligible for anything, we’ll pursue it.”

Advocates for international adoptions and for the Asian American community have championed Crapser’s cause and pressed for a fix to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which simplified international legal adoptions so that the children now automatically become naturalized citizens. But the law, which took effect in February 2001, was retroactive for anybody 18 years or younger at that time; Crapser was already 26 years old then. So he fell into a legal loophole and remains a non-citizen with a criminal record.

Building political support for yet another change to the law — in a way that would substantially benefit convicted criminals — has been next to impossible, advocates have said.

Crapser’s case will go before judge Bennett again at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 20 at the federal building in Portland.