Until the Child Citizenship Act of 2001, adoption and immigration were two separate legal issues. Once an international adoption was complete, the parents had to apply for U.S. citizenship for the child. In many cases, the parents were unaware of this or couldn’t afford to pay the attorney extra to handle the immigration process. Every day new adoptees are learning that they are not American citizens. Their status is revealed to them when they apply for a passport, driver’s license, or government benefits. On estimate, 30,000 adoptees lack citizenship to this country. Those adoptees, especially those with criminal records, are at risk for deportation to the country they were born in. Such cases can face tragic endings.

In 1983, a Philadelphia couple adopted an eight-year-old boy, Phillip Clay, from the Eunpyeong Orphanage in South Korea. The parents failed to make sure the child became a U.S. citizen. As an adult he suffered an addiction to crack cocaine, depression, and anxiety. He had a lengthy criminal career. Among his crimes were drug charges, shoplifting, robbery, and assault of a police officer. He was convicted in 18 criminal cases, 9 of them resulting in jail time. He attended a court ordered mental illness and drug treatment facility twice. In 2010, he had 13 active parole cases in a single week and was hospitilized for depression. In 2012, due to his undocumented status and his criminal record, he was deported to Korea. He arrived there unable to speak the language. He had no family, friends, or resources of any kind. On May 21 he jumped to his death from a 14th story apartment in Ilsan. The adoptee community rallied behind his case feeling as though the system and country had failed him. Vigils were held in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In a similar situation, Adam Crapser knows what it’s like to be deported from the only country he’s ever known. At age three he was adopted from Korea by a family living in Washington. He was shocked to find out as an adult that he was not a legal citizen. Wanting to correct the mistake quickly, he applied for citizenship. He had an old criminal record with convictions for assault, burglary, and weapons possession. He had since rehabilitated and was living as a productive member of society. But because of that record, he was deported to Korea, where he still resides.

It is recommended that all international adoptees born before 2001 look into their immigration status.

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