Fight Continues to Close Citizenship Loophole for Adoptees

Korean adoptee Adam Crapser poses with daughter, Christal, 1, in the family's living room in Vancouver, Wash. on March 19, 2015. Crapser, whose adoptive parents neglected to make him a U.S. citizen, will face an immigration judge and could be separated from his family and deported to South Korea, a country he does not know. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
Korean adoptee Adam Crapser poses with daughter, Christal, 1, in the family’s living room in Vancouver, Wash. on March 19, 2015. Crapser, whose adoptive parents neglected to make him a U.S. citizen, will face an immigration judge and could be separated from his family and deported to South Korea, a country he does not know. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

Today Adam Crapser calls Korea home, a home he hasn’t been to since he was just 3 years old. But a ruling just last month called for the Korean-born adoptee to be returned to his birth country despite having no connections or family in Korea, nor any understanding of the Korean language.

For the past year, Adam Crapser has been the poster child for the Adoptee Citizenship Act, as he has fought to stay in the United States. Adopted at age 3 by American parents, Crapser was abused by his adoptive parents who never made sure to file for Crapser’s American citizenship. Later adopted by another abusive family, no one ever took care of the paperwork necessary to get his citizenship complete, something that automatically occurs for children adopted internationally after 2000 thanks to the Child Citizenship Act. The loophole in the law has eft an estimated 30,000 adoptees vulnerable to deportation because their parents did not fill out the proper paperwork for their citizenship, according to the Adoptee Rights Campaign.

For Crapser, that meant coming under scrutiny after acquiring a criminal record, in part in an effort to retrieve belongings from his second family, who were convicted of a number of serious criminal charges due to their treatment of Crapser.

Crapser’s attorney on the case, Lori Walls, said Crapser’s story is similar to other cases she’s worked on and seen over the years. Walls began working with Crapser in 2015 after Crapser heard about the successful outcome for one of Walls’ other Korean adoptee clients caught in a similar predicament. In that case the outcome was more positive, but that adoptee’s criminal charges were also less severe than Crapser’s. Regardless, Walls said it’s a travesty that children brought to the United States and adopted by American parents should face such harsh penalty for circumstances beyond their control.

“The United States government facilitated these adoptions and it’s outrageous that the government is now deporting these people,” Walls said. “It doesn’t make sense that someone who entered as an infant or toddler is subjected to deportation proceedings as an adult.”

For that very reason, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has been working to change the loophole through the introduction of the Adoptee Citizenship Act. If passed, the act would grant citizenship to adoptees whose parents and guardians failed to go through the proper channels to ensure their child’s citizenship.

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Adoptee Rights Campaign advocates for the Adoptee Citizenship Act gather in Washington D.C. to advocate for the proposed legislation.

“We’re talking about people who have no connection whatsoever to their birth country,” Smith said. “They’re subject to the laws of the United States if they commit a crime, but they shouldn’t be subject to deportation.”

For that same reason the Citizenship Act of 2000 was passed to provide adoptees with immediate citizenship upon adoption. However, the law didn’t retroactively cover children adopted prior to 2000.

The proposed legislation is currently in the House of Representatives judiciary committee where it was originally introduced by Smith and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., but it is gaining co-sponsors daily to include Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Barbara Comstock, R-Va.; and Chris Smith, R-N.J.

“We need to get sign off from the judiciary chairman to move the bill forward,” Smith said. “There’s a chance. This is a very small niche issue and doesn’t fit into the larger argument about immigration. It’s a simple injustice. Time is obviously important because there are people subject to this.”

The bipartisan support is something that Smith says is an important indicator of how sensible this bill is in providing individuals who had no say in their adoptions, and in addition to leaving their birth country lost the protections provided as citizens of the only country they’ve ever known.

“Rep. Franks is very conservative on immigration and I’m very liberal,” Smith said. “If the two of us agree on an immigration issue, this should signal something.”

While it’s quite possibly too late for anything to be done in Crapser’s case, the proposed Adoptee Citizenship Act means there is still hope for other adoptees caught in the same citizenship loophole limbo. Unfortunately, the act has been stalled in committee and the shortened Lame Duck session in December is its last hope.

Emily Kessel has worked with the Adoptee Rights Campaign to help draw attention to cases like Crapser’s and the challenges that thousands of adoptees face without having their citizenship finalized. The organization has not only helped to raise awareness but they’ve also served as a support to Crapser by establishing the Adoptee Defense Fund to support his case.

“It was something that shocked me about Adam’s case and other similar cases,” Kessel said. “This is a common sense bill that’s gotten mixed up in all the other immigration dialogue. There’s a sense of urgency now to have a legislative fix now.”

While Crapser has already been deported to Korea, the passage of the bill could still provide hope for him to repatriate to the United States at some point, while helping the thousands of other adoptees by establishing clear citizenship as well.

“There is no path forward that doesn’t put them at risk unless the Adoptee Citizenship Act passes,” Walls said. “And it should be made retroactive for the handful of adoptees who’ve been deported.”

The fight for justice for other adoptees just like Crapser, now the ultimate martyr still continues. Get more information about the Adoptee Rights Campaign online, or advocate on behalf of the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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