A man adopted from South Korea nearly four decades ago is at the center of a legal battle likely to send him back to the country he barely remembers, ripping him from his family and life here in the United States.
Adam Crapser, 41, who was adopted at age 3 by American citizens, is expected to be deported after an immigration judge ruled this week against relief which would have allowed him to remain in the U.S.
Attorneys for Crapser said the ruling was devastating, particularly after the nine long months Crapser has already spent in an immigration detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
“Adam and his family are heartbroken at the outcome,” Lori Walls of the Washington Immigration Defense Group, who is representing Crapser, told NBC News.
Crapser is one of an estimated 35,000 intercountry adoptees who find themselves in international limbo, sometimes years after their adoptions, because their adoptive parents did not seek U.S. citizenship or green cards for them, advocates say. Crapser's adoptive parents did not apply for his naturalization.
Despite some bumps along the road, Crapser had established a good life for himself. The married father of three had worked as an insurance adjuster, and was living in Washington state.
But his story took an ugly turn two years ago, when Crapser applied to renew his green card and an old rap sheet popped up — providing federal officials with potential fodder for his deportation. Intercountry adoptees who do not have U.S. citizenship can be deported to their country of birth for crimes ranging from forging checks to murder.
Crapser's crimes started after his complicated adoption journey. Seven years after he and his older sister were adopted, their parents abandoned them. The foster care system then separated Crapser, 10 at the time, from his sister, and he moved through several foster and group homes.
When Crapser was 12, he moved in with Thomas and Dolly Crapser, who abused him, Crapser has said. In 1991, the couple was arrested on charges of physical child abuse, sexual abuse, and rape, according to the Associated Press.
Crapser broke into Thomas and Dolly's home as a teen — it was, he said, to retrieve the Korean Bible and rubber shoes that came with him from the orphanage — and was convicted of burglary, the AP reported. He was later convicted for several other offenses, including stealing cars and assaulting a roommate.
"While I am disappointed in the judge’s ruling and worried about my family’s future, I hope that what has happened to me will further demonstrate the importance of passing the Adoptee Citizenship Act."
Still, despite the run-ins with the law, his attorney said Crapser had been eligible for a discretionary form of relief called "cancellation of removal."
"The immigration judge decided he did not deserve this relief," Walls said, adding that Crapser is so "desperate" to be out of detention that he waived appeal earlier this week. "He will be deported as soon as Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes the necessary arrangements."
For others in Crapser's situation, there may be hope: A bill currently being considered by Congress, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015, would close a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to children adopted by U.S. citizens. However, the 2000 law did not grant citizenship to adoptees who were already over the age of 18 when it passed, as Crapser was.
“While I am disappointed in the judge’s ruling and worried about my family’s future, I hope that what has happened to me will further demonstrate the importance of passing the Adoptee Citizenship Act,” Crapser said in a statement.
If the Adoptee Citizenship Act passes, it would even apply retroactively to international adoptees in this predicament who have already been deported, according to advocates.
"We do not choose our families. But the U.S. does choose to bring adoptees into the U.S. with a promise of placing these children in safe homes to grow up like any other American."
Emily Kessel of the Adoptee Rights Campaign said her group is "appalled" by Crapser's deportation ruling.
“It is time for lawmakers to stop making excuses and pass legislation that will put an end to the deportation of Americans. Because that is what adoptees are. Americans,” Kessel said.
Advocates for the bill argue that it gets at the heart of what it means to be a family and the promise of adoption.
“We do not choose our families,” Kessel said. “But the U.S. does choose to bring adoptees into the U.S. with a promise of placing these children in safe homes to grow up like any other American ... Adoptees are not disposable. We urge the community to call members of Congress and underline the need for a legislative fix now."