Immigrant status, and the deportation of an American adoptee

Every year around this date, I remember that National Adoption Month has nearly passed without me recognizing it, which makes me feel hugely deficient. So Happy National Adoption Month. Adoption is a beautiful, heartbreaking, complicated way to form a family, and the circumstances surrounding it are filled with joy and sadness and perpetual grief. Yay!

My three little bugs, as you know, were adopted, the oldest from Vietnam and the younger two from Guatemala. They were adopted; it’s not a chronic medical condition. Now they’re just my kids, and we’re a family. We eat after each other, anyway, so of course we share DNA.

Let’s reverse time and go back nearly 15 years ago to when Hot Firefighter Husband and I flew home with a tiny 13-lb bundle who pooped 42 times while crossing the Pacific. I’m back in the jubilant, exhausted moment when we passed through customs at LAX, and our daughter simultaneously became a U.S. citizen and an immigrant. A legal immigrant.

Thanks to the deplorable rhetoric (I used that word on purpose) of Donald Trump, though, much of society has ceased distinguishing between legal and illegal immigrants, and the bad connotations – rape, crime, job-stealing – have become associated with the word immigrant itself. So imagine my horror when my darling girl, lover of Hariboo gummy bears and Twenty-One Pilots, who shops at Aeropostale and hates geometry and adores/resents her siblings, asked me if she could be deported. Because she’s an immigrant.

nealevenusNO, I nearly screamed. OF COURSE NOT. YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN. YOU CANNOT BE DEPORTED.

“But I’m an immigrant,” she said quietly. She’s a smart girl, despite the geometry thing. She has heard the banter. She’s beginning to understand that millions of people consider her other, even lesser, because she wasn’t born here. Maybe it’s not you; or maybe it’s only not you because you know me, and you know her, so she doesn’t count as one of them. But suppose she – or more likely, her little sister, the Tyrant – grows up and gets into some trouble, maybe commits a misdemeanor or two. Will her status as an American suddenly become conditional, and be replaced by her immigrant label? Will people be more likely to tell her to go back where she came from?

Consider the case of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea at age 3 by an American couple. The couple whipped and beat the boy and his adopted sister; after six years, they abandoned their children to the foster care system. After some time in and out of foster homes, Crapser was re-adopted by Thomas and Dolly Crapser of Oregon. The Crapsers abused him even more viciously – at one point he was hit in the head with a two-by-four. His hands were burned and his mouth duct-taped shut. The Crapsers eventually were convicted of various abuse and assault charges. By then Adam Crapser was nearly an adult, and had spent more than a decade devoid of stability, kindness, and a parent’s love. Unsurprisingly, he got into trouble, and piled up a handful of convictions for burglary and assault.

After a few years, he turned his life around, married, and had children. As he started applying for jobs, he discovered he did not have paperwork proving his American citizenship. Upon further research, he found that his original adoptive parents hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork. He wasn’t, in fact, a U.S. citizen.

It seemed like a clerical error. So he applied for a green card. But the feds took one look at his criminal background, and told him he would instead be deported to the country he had nearly forgotten. He appealed. So the feds locked him up in detention until the case came to court, at which point a judge confirmed the ruling and agreed Crapser needed to be deported, and thus separated from his wife and children – the only true family he has ever known. Crapser, now 41, recently dropped the appeal because he’s desperate to get out of detention. Gentle reminder: detention is like jail, but with three syllables. So he will be repatriated to South Korea soon. He speaks no Korean. His wife and children can’t move across the world with him. His birth mother is desperately learning English so she can apologize to him for making what she calls the biggest mistake of her life.

This story makes me, quite literally, sick, especially considering the fact that there are tens of thousands more Adam Crapsers in this country. In 2000, Congress passed a law granting automatic citizenship to all adopted children as soon as they pass through customs on American soil. But it wasn’t retro-active.

My children, my beautiful, all-American immigrants, are unlikely to face serious immigration issues. But goddammit! Why should they even have to think about it? Why are we developing into a nation which opens our arms so conditionally? People close to me may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. What protects my children now from frequent questioning by the public at large is me. We live in a small community where I am known, and our family is known. Also, I’ve heard that people might find me scary. But my son, my son with the glorious history of the Mayans reflected in his cinnamon skin and dark eyes – he’s about 10 or 15 miles away from being seen as just another Hispanic. Oh, and he likes to wear hoodies. I’m sure that won’t matter. Shudder.

It’s shameful. [As an aside, I think our treatment of illegal immigrants is pretty shameful, too, but I can’t multitask.]

I’m not advocating for the truly bad people who want to come into or stay in this country. But we as a society, through our elected officials, have made promises we need to keep. Children adopted from foreign lands belong here, in the place they call home, and they deserve to feel at home in this place they call home. Legal immigrants have come to America with love, respect and hope, and the very fabric of our nation promises them those same gifts in return, regardless of what they look like, regardless of where they were born, regardless of what mistakes they’ve made. Yes, I think it’s okay for immigrants to make mistakes.

My daughter will not be deported. My brain knows that. But Adam Crapser will be. And right now, that’s hitting pretty close to home.

3 responses to Immigrant status, and the deportation of an American adoptee

  1. Luce Booker says:

    Dear. Tricia,
    What a beautiful piece of writing.
    Keep it up ,through your writing you can make a difference. L.

    • tricia says:

      Hi Luce – Thank you so much for reading. I bet this hit pretty close to home for you, too. Love you.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Great work again! I had never heard that story about Adam Crasper. So sad and unjust.

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