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Another Test for ICE Director Sarah Saldaña: Will She Really Deport Adam Crapser?

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When the Obama Administration announced new DHS enforcement policies last year, undocumented immigrants with deep roots in the U.S. should have felt some ease.

In that memo, the government stated that officials should “exercise discretion based on individual circumstances,” and consider whether the individual presents a threat to “national security, border security, or public safety“ before carrying out a deportation.

In simpler terms, the government must look at both the good and bad when making decisions about who should go and who should stay. But a closer look reveals there’s a deep disconnect between this memo and reality for many undocumented immigrants.

Adam Crapser knows this first-hand. Yesterday, the New York Times profiled this dad of three U.S. citizens (with another soon on the way). Adam has a deportation hearing this week and faces expulsion to South Korea, a country he hasn’t stepped foot in for over 35 years.

Adam was adopted from South Korea at the age of three. Under law, children adopted by U.S. citizens can become citizens, but the couple who adopted him neglected to file the paperwork. Over a matter of a few years, Adam was shuffled from abusive home to abusive home, including one where his guardians were later charged with “dozens of counts of child abuse, including rape, sexual abuse and criminal mistreatment.”

It’s no surprise that by the time Adam reached young adulthood, he’d already served time in prison.

In recent years, Adam had been attempting to make amends with his past, becoming a full-time dad, getting married, and desiring to finally become a U.S. citizen. But by filing his paperwork, he triggered a DHS background check that turned up his past convictions and now has him facing permanent separation from his family.

From the NYT profile:

It’s a Kafkaesque episode: Crapser’s various crimes may have warranted the punishments he received, but deportation to a country in which he had barely lived? In fact, Crapser has company. No one knows exactly how many international adoptees in the United States don’t have U.S. citizenship; in some cases, adoptees don’t find out themselves until they apply for federal student loans, try to get a passport or register to vote. But at least three dozen other international adoptees have also faced deportation charges or have been deported to countries like Thailand, Brazil and South Korea.


Whoever is at fault in any individual case, it is hard to imagine a more bizarre and cruel twist for adoptees who grew up in the United States. Deportation back to their birth countries goes against the story that children are often told after they are adopted, that they are living in “forever homes” with “forever families.” Many adoptees, especially of the earlier generations left out of the 2000 law, were encouraged to assimilate, to become “American” and leave their birth country behind. As Maureen McCauley Evans, a former executive director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, a nonprofit group that promotes adoption and other children’s issues, says: “It undermines the integrity of the adoptive family. These adoptees are genuinely family members, and then we have the government saying, ‘No, they are not.’”

When I spoke with Crapser, he was awaiting his first deportation hearing, scheduled for this week on what happens to be his 40th birthday. “As I tell my kids, you have to pay the price for your wrongs,” he said. “I’ve done that. I’ve done my time and probation and followed the rules.”

Andrew Muñoz, a spokesman for ICE, says that although Crapser’s criminal history makes him potentially deportable, “ICE was not aware of Mr. Crapser’s childhood history” when it made the decision to pursue his case and would take it into consideration. Meanwhile, Korean adoptee groups, both in Seoul and the United States, as well as other activist organizations, including Vollmers’s, have been lobbying local lawmakers on Crapser’s behalf. They and other advocates are also pushing Congress to finally write an amendment to rectify the grandfathering lapse in the Child Citizenship Act; to both put an end to the deportations and to make all adoptees, regardless of their age, U.S. citizens.

Adam’s tale harkens to the recent story of Max Villatoro, an Iowa pastor. Though a dad of four U.S. citizens and a beloved faith leader in his community, the government considered Pastor Max a priority for removal due to convictions from 20 years prior. Pastor Max was in no way a threat to national security and fit within the government’s new guidelines, and his legal counsel and hundreds of his Iowa City neighbors attested to it. Additionally, over 40,000 signed their names in support of Pastor Max following a national campaign.

But that was not enough to convince the Obama Administration, and Pastor Max was deported to Honduras during the early morning Friday hours. His deportation came just hours after ICE Director Sarah Saldaña had testified at a House hearing on immigration where she stressed, as Pastor Max’s attorney David Leopold wrote in Latino Rebels, “that ICE always takes into account the severity of the person’s crime, his or her work history, family ties and length of time in the U.S. Really? Tell that to Pastor Max’s wife, his four children, his church and his community.”

As Maribel Hastings wrote last month, “the goal of these memoranda was to prioritize detention and deportations of those who really pose a threat to national security and our communities.” But in reality, with immigrants like Pastor Max and Adam still first in line to be expelled from the country, it’s clear there is a divide between the memo and the enforcers on the ground.

ICE immigration officials may not have been aware of Adam’s childhood history before the NYT profile, but they should be now. Yet this father still has a deportation hearing scheduled for this week. It begs an even bigger question for the government: where is the common sense?