Deportation hearing begins for adopted man whose parents didn't seek his citizenship

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Date: 2015-04-02

By Bryan Denson

Korean-born Adam Crapser spent Thursday morning, his 40th birthday, in a U.S. immigration courtroom in Portland, where the government began what is expected to be a long and complicated fight to deport him from the only country he knows.

Crapser, a Vancouver resident, told reporters after a brief court appearance that he remembers the eruption of Mount St. Helens but not the orphanage from where he was adopted.

"I'm not garbage," he told reporters outside the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. "I don't think human beings are disposable."

Immigration Judge Michael H. Bennett, a balding man with a beatific smile, heard a series of routine cases Thursday - foreign-born residents facing deportation - but there is almost nothing routine about Crapser's story.

He was three years old when he and his sister were adopted from South Korea then split up. Crapser's adoptive parents were abusive and never filed papers that would make him a U.S. citizen.

His adult life, marred by periods of homelessness and crime, eventually reached safe harbor. He is now married, the father of three children, with a fourth on the way. He loves America and says he would gladly serve in the U.S. military.

His lawyer describes him as a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

And he has the backing of two U.S. senators -- including the junior senator from Oregon, Democrat Jeff Merkley -- who have proposed a bill that would grant automatic citizenship for adoptees such as Crapser.

"It was not his responsibility to fill out that immigration paperwork," Merkley recently told The Associated Press. "He knows no other country."

Lori Walls, the Seattle immigration lawyer who represents Crapser, said her client's deportation case - initiated because of his criminal history - could drag on for the better part of 18 months.

"It's a very long road," she said.

Forks in the road ahead could prove helpful or cataclysmic to her client.

Government lawyers first have the burden of proving that Crapser's criminal convictions in state courts - from burglary to assault - are U.S. immigration violations that make him deportable, Walls said.

If the government succeeds, she said, "we have the burden to show that he's eligible for certain kinds of relief."

Those remedies include asylum or obtaining a green card (his wife will soon be a naturalized U.S. citizen). Another is to obtain a visa by proving he was a crime victim at the hands of the adoptive parents who abused him.

Crapser's removal proceedings were set in motion two years ago, when he applied for a green card and government lawyers learned of his criminal convictions.

Thursday's initial hearing had the tone and brevity of a criminal court arraignment.

The key moment came when Bennett asked Walls whether her client wanted to enter a plea to the government's allegations that he should be deported.

Walls, who had just been handed a stack of government papers she'd never seen - including documents that outlined two new allegations against her client - said Crapser was not ready to make a plea.

Bennett set the case over until June 18.

For his part, Crapser wasn't shrugging off the crimes he committed as a young man.

"I'm responsible for my actions, and I've done my time," he said. "Please, just listen to the details. ... If I've really done something so bad, then I'll take my punishment. But I've been around a lot of real criminals; I've been around a lot of people who don't care.

"I care," he said. "I want to be here. I want to stay here. So I just ask everybody to just please, you know, have some leniency on me. ... All I want to do is be the best American I can be. I don't want to be this broken, screwed-up guy. Just don't take me out of the United States."

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