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crime of being adopted

On the Crime of Being Adopted

News came recently of Adam Crapser, a married father of two who was detained last month and sits in a cell in Tacoma awaiting deportation to Korea , a land he hasn’t seen since he was adopted from there 40 years ago, in 1976. His crime is not his own, and his life in the US can be summarized in four chapters, each its own tragedy:

  • Abused by adoptive family #1, as was his biological sister.
  • Separated from his biological sister when Child Services got involved.
  • Adopted again by a new family, without his sister. Abused and tortured again.
  • Is today facing deportation charges because among all those charged with his care, none ever finalized his naturalization.

Today I offer guest post that reveals injustices around how adoptees are treated in the United States. Adam Pertman, founder of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, tells of previous cases of adoptee deportation — Adam Crapser’s is not an rarity — along with what you can do to help make things right.
crime of being adopted

Unfairness and Inequality in Adoption

adam pertman adoption permanencyImagine that your daughter, whom you raised from infancy, was convicted of forgery. You certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she were prosecuted for that felony and, while it would be heartbreaking, you’d expect her to be punished, probably even imprisoned. Now let’s add one more element to this real-life scenario: How would you feel if the penalty imposed on your 30-year-old child — who suffers from multiple sclerosis — was deportation to another country where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the native language?

I am not making this up. It is happening today. It is obviously devastating to the woman facing a jarringly disproportionate punishment for the crime she committed, but it is also much more than that. It is a vivid example of the unfairness and inequality that sometimes exist in the world of adoption.

What may be most unnerving is the fact that this is not an aberration; while it is hardly commonplace, it has happened again and again. And there has been virtually no media attention, or public outrage, or embarrassment on the part of immigration officials, or concerted effort to reform law and policy so that people who were adopted into their families are placed on a level playing field with their biological counterparts.

Here’s the core of the case: Kairi Abha Shepherd was adopted from India into the United States in 1982, when she was three months old. Her mother, a single woman in Utah, died of cancer eight years later, so Shepherd went on to live with guardians for the remainder of her childhood.

When Adults Don’t Know/Don’t Do, The Adoptee Suffers the Consequences

Shepherd’s adoption took place before 2000, when a new federal statute conferred automatic U.S. citizenship on most children adopted internationally into this country; the law included a retroactive provision, but she was adopted a few months before it kicked in. So the adults in her life were supposed to fill out paperwork for her to become a citizen — but, like many others, they either didn’t know or, for whatever reasons, never got around to doing it.

As a consequence, when Shepherd was convicted in 2004 of forgery to feed a drug habit, U.S. authorities did what they do to many felons who don’t have documents showing they are Americans: they started deportation proceedings, which are now coming to a head. It doesn’t seem to matter that Shepherd has lived as an American for all but a few months of her life, and it is an extraordinary price to pay for a bureaucratic oversight made by the adults who raised her.

This is not an aberration. In 2011, a 31-year-old mother of three, who was adopted from Korea when she was eight months old, was held at a federal detention center in Arizona and faced deportation after a second theft conviction. It’s unclear what happened to the woman, who was not named, but the bottom line was the same: her adoption took place before the period covered by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and neither she nor her parents ever applied for citizenship for her. So, even though she had lived in the U.S. nearly all her life, had given birth to three children on our nation’s soil, had never as much as visited Korea and didn’t speak the language, federal authorities wanted to send her “back.”

There are more examples, too, dating back at least 15 years; indeed, in my book Adoption Nation, I write about a young man who was adopted into the U.S. as a child, convicted of car theft and credit card fraud, and deported at age 25 to Thailand, where (same story) he knew no one and didn’t speak the native tongue. Can you imagine anything comparable happening to someone born into his or her family, whatever the offense? Of course not.

People who break the law should unequivocally pay an appropriate price for their offenses. But I think it can fairly be argued that the reason some are being ejected from the only country they’ve ever known is not because of the crime they’ve committed — but because they were adopted.

This feels grievously wrong. We should be shocked, we should be outraged, and we should do whatever is necessary to halt the cases already in progress and to prevent this from ever happening again.

A version of this article appeared previously on The Huffington Post.

After leaving his position as Executive Director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute in 2014, Adam Pertman founded NCAP, The National Center on Adoption and Permanency. He spent 20 years as a senior reporter and editor with the Boston Globe, where his honors included a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his writing about adoption. He and his family make their home in Massachusetts.

Stop Deporting Adoptees!

To learn more and to make a difference, alert the media, alert your lawmakers and ask them to change laws that unjustly prosecute adoptees. Sign a petition, write a letter, donate to the Adoptee Defense Fund. Get informed and do something.

UPDATE AUGUST, 2016: Call Congress to Pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act now. <== The link will guide you through.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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7 Responses

  1. I think that it might be a good idea to go forward on the front of suggesting to adult adoptees that they might want to check on their citizenship status. People can be so unsympathetic to others who have committed even minor crimes and then end up on the deportation lists. (Look at all the rhetoric about illegal immigrants – no one cares if the paperwork mixup isn’t your fault. Unfortunately.)

  2. Here’s a link to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website with information about checking one’s citizenship: No one should worry about determining citizenship unless you’ve been convicted of a felony, in which case you’d probably find out the answer during your trial. Anyone adopted from another country could also ask their parents. I do think it’s a good thing to check citizenship and then get it if necessary. — Adam Pertman, NCAP President

    1. Thank you for your quick response. When I was adopted in the early 70s and my birth certificate says that this document is ‘not proof of citizenship’. My father died and my mother has dementia (and Parkinsons). I called the State and they said they don’t know what to do but did give me the advice to get ‘readopted’. I voted and heard I could get deported because that is a crime for non US citizens. I am deathly scared of this, as my adoptive parents often said if I don’t behave I will be deported back. Many inter country adopted people are scared to find out for fear that they will be sent back. Another question, I have been my caregiver for my mother for 15 years. I gave up my day time job to be her primary caregiver without getting paid. I also married recently and when I went to the social security office to change my last name they did not have me as a US citizen in the system. So now I am fearful and don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer. I think this is common problems that older adopted people face but too afraid to come out of the wood work. Why did we have to be adopted overseas anyways? I just don’t believe the loving ‘forever family’ rhetoric the industry uses to excuse that this adoption was needed or transaction is justified. But, letting true feelings out I believe sets us up for being deported. It’s a no win situation and very frustrating world to be caught in, basically we are caught inbetween two worlds and not belonging to either unless you are useful for them. It’s almost like purgatory….just ask the other adoptees that have been deported. Sorry, but I am depressed.

  3. This made me so angry. On top of surviving abuse from people who should not have been able to adopt in the first place, now the adoptees are dealing with potential deportation due to neglect from both the supposed parents and the government. In what world is this even considered okay?

    Getting the word out that adult adoptees should be checking their citizenship status is good, but more importantly is making sure that this responsibility is on the agencies and the government to make it a non-issue for adoptees. With the blessings of the US government, citizens are removing these kids from their countries of origin and immersing them in our culture. They are effectively US citizens and they have zero chose in the matter. The government has an obligation to these adoptees to correct this wrong and end additional trauma caused by the poor choices of others.

  4. For Intercountry Adoptee, you could try reaching out to a nonprofit that could connect you with a pro bono attorney. Not sure where in the country you are, but I used to volunteer for The National Immigrant Justice Center which works in the Midwest – a group like that might be able to help or at least point you in the right direction. I’m so sorry that this question has been haunting you.

  5. This has been an emotional topic in the adoptee world and one as an international adoptee believes that not naturalizing your adopted child is criminal indeed!!! To take a child from another country into a home and family and new country just to have that adoptee be sent back because of loaches of in action. The adoptee is to go back to a country where the were not wanted in the first place??!! Is there anyway to back track the agency where Adam came from and who processed the adoption to go to bat and help him to get naturalized also appears that the adoption agency did not do due diligence for Adam to get two abusive families! I believe the agency has some responsibility in this to assure any child placed in the states get citizenship automatically. Both my husband and I are international adoptees and within a couple of years, our adoptive families took us through the citizenship process. It is insane that we are at this point in the adoption world!!

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