Punished thirty years on
March 5, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Adam Crapser was adopted from Korea to abusive parents who were arrested on multiple counts of child abuse and rape. Over thirty years later, one last sting of neglect from his parents came back to bite him: he has been served deportation papers because his adoptive parents failed to complete his naturalization process.
posted by divabat (65 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
“Nihil humanum a me alienum puto, said the Roman poet Terence: 'Nothing human is alien to me.' The slogan of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service could have been the reverse: To us, no aliens are human.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir
posted by Fizz at 5:23 PM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Why is he being deported? For the burglaries? You don't have to be a citizen to live in the U.S.. Many immigrants never naturalize. Presumably he had his immigration papers when they brought him in or he couldn't have entered, right?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:32 PM on March 5, 2015


If only I had a penguin...: undocumented people who commit misdemeanours usually get harsher penalties, including deportation. The family didn't complete his papers.
posted by divabat at 5:38 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a loose example: I am in the US on a specific visa that only lasts till late August. If I don't change or renew my visa, but still hang around the US, I would then become undocumented - and at risk of deportation, especially since I am technically breaking the law.

Just because I got into the country lawfully doesn't mean I can remain here lawfully just by existing.
posted by divabat at 5:45 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is he undocumented? I don't see how that would work since he would have been stopped when his parents brought him from Korea.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:45 PM on March 5, 2015


Harsher penalties for what, divabat? I read the linked story two times over trying to find out what, exactly, precipitated deportation proceedings. I mean, I absolutely think it's unconscionable to deport an adult who's been living in the U.S. since he was a 4-year-old. But I'm curious what the ostensible justification would be for such a thing.
posted by Mothlight at 5:45 PM on March 5, 2015


Sorry to jump on one piddly point. I realize this is awful and I think it's awful. I just also think it's awful and makes no sense. I think there's some important/relevant piece of information missing from the article.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:46 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Penguin: he was allowed in as an adoptee, but that allowance wasn't permanent. To remain in the country, his parents had to fill out extra paperwork to naturalize him as a citizen. They didn't do that, so once those adoption papers expired (I am guessing when he became an independent adult) he ended up being undocumented.

Mothlight: Harsher penalties for everything. He was charged on burglary, but really immigration will use any excuse against you.
posted by divabat at 5:48 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think he's undocumented. I think he's a permanent resident who can still have his visa revoked and be deported if he's convicted of a crime, which he has been. And I mean, that's bad. People shouldn't commit crimes. (And it looks to me like he may have been convicted of domestic violence, rather than burglary, for what it's worth.) But people who commit crimes shouldn't be punished more harshly because they're immigrants with irresponsible parents.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:49 PM on March 5, 2015


ArbitraryAndCapricious: Does the article say he got a green card?
posted by divabat at 5:50 PM on March 5, 2015


From the article:
living as an undocumented American for most of his adult life, Adam struggled to attend school or find work without his documented status. Now, he now faces deportation to a country he doesn’t know.
Being a permanent resident/having a green card is the complete opposite of being undocumented.
posted by divabat at 5:51 PM on March 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


But weren't the burglaries around 15 years ago?
posted by pravit at 5:52 PM on March 5, 2015


How come everyone else can stay in the country legally without naturalizing but an adoptee can't? That doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, there needs to be some sort of "if you came before you were X years old" on deportations for crimes. Many years ago in Toronto some Jamaican men who had been in Canada since they were toddlers were convicted of a high profile murder and there was much hullaballoo about this, since whatever they were, they became in Canada and dumping problems we created on Jamaica may be legal, but it hardly seems reasonable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:52 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


How come everyone else can stay in the country legally without naturalizing but an adoptee can't? That doesn't make any sense.

A little googling suggests that adoptees sometimes enter on visas that don't confer permanent residency automatically and are then "re-adopted" in state court and become permanent residents at that point. It's easy to imagine the second step never happening, never mind failing to file naturalisation papers.
posted by hoyland at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Penguin: Different visas, different rules. It's not just naturalized vs non-naturalized - there are a zillion different ways you can come into and stay in the US, and many of them have a time limit. Also from the article:
For those of us who are not transnational adoptees, it may come as a surprise to learn that until recently, American citizenship was not automatically granted to transnational adoptees upon arrival in America. Until 2000 — and unlike the biological children of American citizens born overseas (who receive American citizenship by birth) — adoptees were forced to undergo the same lengthy immigration process that adult immigrants face.
posted by divabat at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


(my aunt is applying for a green card for my parents; it's been 15 years and no news. Because I'm now no longer a minor I now don't qualify for that green card, despite being on my parents' application from the beginning.)
posted by divabat at 5:58 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that prior to 2001, international adoptees were automatically granted lawful permanent resident status when the adoption was finalized. What changed in 2001 was that they were automatically granted citizenship.
But weren't the burglaries around 15 years ago?
He was arrested in September 2013 for assault and violating a restraining order. I assume that arrest, not the old burglaries, is probably what triggered this.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:59 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


So based on what divabat and hoyland posted, it looks like the issue isn't so much that they didn't naturalize him as that they didn't get him permanent residency? He came in on some other visa type and they never re-adopted him and got him permanent residency? With permanent residency you have every right to stay as long as you want (barring deportation for a crime). Naturalization, which he could do only after getting permanent residency, would protect him even from a conviction.

So if he wasn't a permanent resident then the don't really need a reason to deport him (i.e. it doesn't have to follow his release on the other convictions), they can just at any point turn on him and legally deport him on a whim.

That's awful. The article doesn't say what legal recourse he has. I hope he has some and is appealing. In Canada if the penalty for a crime changes between when you commit the crime and when you're sentenced, you have the right to the lesser penalty. If something like this exists in the US, I wonder if he could argue on those grounds -- de facto the penalty for being adopted and then committing a crime has changed.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:01 PM on March 5, 2015


ArbitraryAndCapricious: TFA, which I quoted earlier, says nothing about lawful permanent residency. It says that adoptees still needed to go through a lengthy immigration process. If he was here as a PR he would never have been undocumented.
posted by divabat at 6:01 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Forom the article: people like Adam are at the risk of being deported, can’t get their drivers license, open bank accounts, etc.

So this isn't about naturalization, since you don't need to be a citizen to do those things. You don't even need to be a resident to open a bank account.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:04 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


This guide to this issue for Korean adoptees says:
If you were adopted by U.S. citizen parents your current immigration status will likely be that of a lawful permanent resident (LPR). However, this might not always be the case, for example, if you arrived in the United States on a medical visa or on humanitarian parole and your status was never adjusted.... Although your PRC may have expired, your LPR status does not expire. However, if you travel and remain outside of the United States for more than six months, you could be at risk of abandoning your LPR status.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:05 PM on March 5, 2015


ArbitraryAndCapricious: How old are those laws? Adam was adopted in 1979 and the article states that some of these rules didn't even come into effect until about 2000.
posted by divabat at 6:09 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Penguin: you need certain documentation to do things like open a bank account, and some people are fussy about the documents they accept. I have a San Francisco ID and some places won't even accept that. It can be a bit of a Catch-22 situation sometimes.

Again, it's not naturalized vs non-naturalized.
posted by divabat at 6:10 PM on March 5, 2015


They're talking about people who were adopted before the law that came into effect in 2001. That law said that children automatically became US citizens upon being adopted by a US citizen. Only people adopted before that have to worry about their citizenship, unless there was something wrong with the adoption. I don't know how old the previous laws were, but I think the document would have noted if something had changed after 1979, because a very significant number of Korean adoptees were adopted before that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:12 PM on March 5, 2015


I have a few family members who are adopted (were adopted in the 1970s and 80s) and they had to go through a citizenship process that included a test and stuff. This guy's parents did not go through that process and thus it sounds like he never was naturalized.
posted by sockermom at 6:14 PM on March 5, 2015


And to be clear: I think this is a profoundly shitty situation and that Congress should pass a law immediately granting citizenship to all international adoptees. I also don't think that people who came to the US as children should be deported, no matter what kind of crime they have committed, just because their parents failed to apply for citizenship for them. But I don't think this guy would have been deported if he hadn't committed a crime. The situation is still terribly unfair and messed up and needs to be rectified.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:19 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is about naturalization because children who are adopted should be naturalized, not just granted residency status. If they are being given permanently into the care of American families to be raised and nurtured, with the approval of the federal government, they aren't just permanent residents, they are being raised with the expectation they'll grow into citizens. That's why Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act to naturalize foreign-born children adopted by Americans and residing in the US. But Congress - whether out of xenophobia or forgetfulness - left out adults who were adopted transnationally.
There are a bunch of hoops that immigrants have to jump through to get permanent residency that children can't jump through on their own because children don't have long histories of interaction with social institutions like education and employment. In families, this is managed by parents. But absent the motivating factor of themselves being subject to deportation, the abusive families into which this man was adopted couldn't be bothered. He's out in the cold, because the paperwork wasn't completed when he was a child, and as an adult he was in the precarious position of having resided in the US illegally through literally no fault of his own. It doesn't matter how he came to DHS's attention, and given that we're all under surveillance all the time, it's not surprising that he did. It matters that there's a giant gap through which people are falling.
posted by gingerest at 6:21 PM on March 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I lived in the US as a non-resident, not just non-citizen, for years and had no trouble opening bank accounts and such. I did eventually get a SSN (I don't remember why), but that was a couple of years after I arrived and I opened accounts and got credit cards before that without it. You don't need to be a resident to get a SSN or open accounts. You don't need to be a citizen to get a drivers license. You don't need to be a citizen (or resident) to live in the US legally. And not being naturalized is not something you can be deported for. I wish there were an article explaining what actually happened here (I googled his name and didn't find one), because this article has a whole bunch of holes and if this guy is trying to create outrage (which would likely be justified), he's going to be better served by something that explains the situation accurately and clearly.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:23 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only reason I have an SSN is because I had authorization from my school to work: they don't give them willy-nilly. I can't use my home address for Bank of America, despite living in Oakland, because as a non-citizen I have to fill out forms about "foreign transfers of money" and they're very particular about answers (P.O. boxes are fine for some reason).

Things get much worse if you're not White Western. A while ago on the Blue a Jamaican guy got deported because he was unwittingly used as a drug courier. I have not attended a political protest here despite being involved with social justice because the risk of being arrested and deported for "public disorder" is too high, especially as a Muslim-country citizen. Arizona has laws where they can ask you point blank for your papers just because you were walking while brown. For a while Border Control wanted to pull aside every international student arriving in the US because a friend of the Boston bombers was an international student that dropped out.

It's not that straightforward for everyone, and not across the country.
posted by divabat at 6:36 PM on March 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Jeebus.
posted by notyou at 6:44 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


lived in the US as a non-resident, not just non-citizen, for years

Residents are people who live in the country. I don't think you are using these words correctly.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:55 PM on March 5, 2015


Resident, in this context, is a legal status. I did my taxes as a "non-resident alien" and put my US address at the top. I wasn't authorized to work and this was written on my SSN card.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:10 PM on March 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't think you're using these words correctly.

The word resident has a specific technical meaning in the context of immigration law, which could be revealed to you through a quick Google search.
posted by bracems at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


Yes. It means living in the US for long enough to pass what is called "the substantial presence test", which is also detailed on Google and includes anyone who is physically present in the USA for a duration that could plausibly be colloquially be described as "years". (http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Substantial-Presence-Test)
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:35 PM on March 5, 2015


Also "document" doesn't just mean US passport or Green Card. There are a ridiculous amount of documents you need to do anything, ESPECIALLY as a non-citizen. A passport with a valid visa, letters from school or work, financial history, support letters, stuff with my address on it, bills, ID from other countries, birth certificates, on and on and on.

You can't just waltz up to the DMV or BoA or City Council and expect them to give you documents on the spot. Adam likely didn't have any of these documents - no passport, no birth cert, no ID - which would stop him from getting the things he needs. He's hardly alone.
posted by divabat at 7:42 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Agents of KAOS: Unless you're an "exempt individual" and then physical presence, even for years, does not constitute "substantial presence," as stated in your own link.

Divabat, yeah I was thinking, I probably opened my accounts using my passport as ID. Adam probably wouldn't have had a passport. I did not have a visa, and though this wasn't ever a problem for banks and such, it did cause delay when I imported my household goods. I could see how if he was not even a resident that would create all sorts of hurdles, since he would not have all the bureaucratic byproducts of citizenship or former residence anywhere else. I just wish this article explained it more clearly. This cannot possibly be about naturalization.

Is he entitled to help from the congressperson for the district where he lives? Maybe via his spouse?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:57 PM on March 5, 2015


And not being naturalized is not something you can be deported for.

No, but it leaves you vulnerable to deportation. My mom became a US citizen not because she wanted to "become American" or whatever they tried to teach us in school, but because there was a spike of anti-immigrant sentiment and she was afraid she'd somehow be separated from my brother and I at a border.
posted by hoyland at 8:02 PM on March 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


ICE presumably took note of him because he had a record. But many people in the US with chaotic pasts and birthright citizenship also have records. The reason this is fomenting outrage is that it's outrageous. The US has a responsibility to the children its citizens adopted from their home nations, but it only accepted this responsibility for children who were under 18 on February 27, 2001. All the rest of the adoptees are treated the same way as any undocumented immigrant, even though the only reason they're here is that they were children who literally had no other home.
Adam Crapser isn't the only adult transnational adoptee in this position.
posted by gingerest at 8:05 PM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


In addition to all the other horribleness, this stood out to me as well: "In 1991, the Crapsers were arrested and convicted of sexual and physical abuse; both accepted plea deals to serve 90 days in jail and pay fines for their crimes.". I mean, I guess possibly it had something to do with what the prosecutor could actually prove, but that seems... beyond grossly inadequate.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Real ID Act of 2005 changed things for a lot of non citizens in the US. It required that states get the status of people who where requesting Drivers licenses or IDs. If you got your license before that (in a lenient state like California), and you didn't get into trouble, you could coast along with what you had.
posted by Monday at 8:53 PM on March 5, 2015


From gingerest's link:
On May 8, an immigration judge ordered Kairi’s removal to India– a country that she has never visited and in which she is a veritable foreigner lacking both cultural and linguistic knowledge. She has 45 days since the date of judgment to enter an appeal before Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials escort her to the airport.

Disabled, she has advanced multiple sclerosis and needs to stay with her family in the United States where she has access to vital care.

[...]

Breaking silence, Kairi told The Times of India that she was afraid but not hiding or absconding. “The deportation order will force me to part from my physicians and family, and will be a death sentence.”
It's difficult to imagine what it would be liked to be dropped in a foreign country, barred from returning home -- with none of the skills you would need to survive there. On top of that, to have a serious medical condition that needs treatment...

I would like to know what has happened to deported adoptees. How many have actually been deported, and do we know what happened to them? What happens when they get off the plane? Are there humanitarian/charitable organizations aware of the situation that will help them, or are they basically homeless?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:07 PM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


You don't need to be a resident to get a SSN or open accounts.

You need authorization of some sort to work in the U.S. in order to get an SSN. They don't just give them out to anyone who asks.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:02 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


OMDT: You can get a SSN card that says "Not authorized to work" on it. They don't give it to anyone who asks, but you don't have to be authorized to work. Google "SSN for non-work purposes."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:15 PM on March 5, 2015


The US deported a bunch of Khmer-Americans who had come in as child refugees and never had their paperwork finalized, back to Cambodia after they were released from prison and it was really bad. I'll dig up the news stories when I get home. Australia is trying to do the same thing now and in Singapore, it's the same - if you are a victim of crime and can't support yourself (like your employer stole your pay or you were trafficked), you get a one way ticket back.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:15 PM on March 5, 2015


What the Australian government is trying to do now is slightly different- they want to be able to revoke citizenship that has already been granted and finalised as a punishment for "terrorist" offences.
posted by chiquitita at 10:21 PM on March 5, 2015


Penguin: point being, you need a reason to get an SSN, one that tends to require tons of paperwork. It's not easy for everyone.
posted by divabat at 10:25 PM on March 5, 2015


Yes, and ID. I had a passport. Adam probably didn't.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:29 PM on March 5, 2015


You can get a SSN card that says "Not authorized to work" on it.

It says something to the effect of "not authorized to work without INS approval" (emphasis mine; they may have reworded it since the INS is no longer the name of that agency). Your experience is that of someone who had the ability to get a SSN due to your status in the U.S.

People who are in the U.S. without the requisite immigration status cannot do this.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:41 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


People who are in the U.S. without the requisite immigration status cannot do this.

Yes, that has basically been my point the whole time. This article says he isn't naturalized, but the content suggests that naturalization isn't the (main?) issue. There must be more to it than what is in the article because non-naturalized people aren't typically up and deported for no particular reason just out of the blue. Nor are people who just never naturalized ineligible to open bank accounts or get ID.

It says the Crapsers "refused to help" with his naturalization but if his status was such that he couldn't open bank accounts, then he wasn't eligible to naturalize, so there was no naturalization to help with. If he was eligible to naturalize (as his seeking help with doing so suggests) then he should have been eligible to open bank accounts and get a drivers license. There are a bunch of pieces of this article that don't fit together.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:55 PM on March 5, 2015


This is totally awful, but I hope people aren't under the impression that it's some sort of crazy edge case. Millions of Americans are at risk of deportation because of legal/administrative situations that developed when they were minors.
posted by threeants at 11:46 PM on March 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Millions of Americans are at risk of deportation because of legal/administrative situations that developed when they were minors.

Yet this case is a little different, because the person in question was adopted. From their viewpoint, they have known no other country, no other context, and are at risk of deporting solely because of being their legal guardian's inability/forgetfulness to fulfill paperwork at a certain point in time.

Imagine that tomorrow, your citizenship was actually revealed to be false, and you were deported to a random country, thanks to some twist in terms of paperwork that should have been filed already by your parents, before you were an adult. Had you any idea? No. Could you have done something about it at the time? No. Can you do something about it now? No.

This is particularly cruel.
posted by suedehead at 12:01 AM on March 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


The same factors largely apply to DACA-eligible undocumented immigrants...
posted by threeants at 12:18 AM on March 6, 2015


Penguin: I suggest you re-read gingerest's first comment on here regarding naturalization, because I feel like you're just clutching at straws here.
posted by divabat at 12:55 AM on March 6, 2015


The same factors largely apply to DACA-eligible undocumented immigrants...
The same factors apply to anyone who immigrated legally as a child on an immigrant (ie not-temporary) visa and whose parents failed to apply for citizenship for them before they reached adulthood. That's a massive pool of people. To put it in perspective, I'm going out for drinks after work with about five co-workers, and one of them is in that situation. She and her mom immigrated legally to the US when she was a pre-schooler, and her mom never got it together to apply for citizenship for her. My friend could do it now, but it's really expensive, and she's never felt like she could spare the money. It's mostly not a huge deal, but it does mean that she could have her legal resident status revoked and be deported if she committed certain crimes, some of which are pretty minor. There are special factors that affect adult adoptees: mostly that they have few or no family or cultural ties to the countries of their birth, unlike most but not all other immigrants, but also in this case that the affected person is estranged from his parents and would probably have had to spend a lot of money getting copies of the relevant documents that he would have needed to naturalize while he still could. But the core problem is one that faces a lot of legal immigrants and that won't be fixed by fixing the immigration laws pertaining to adult international adoptees. Our whole immigration system is fucked.

So basically, we need at least three fixes. The first is to pass a law automatically granting citizenship to anyone who has ever been adopted by an American citizen. The second is to make it much easier and cheaper for permanent residents to apply for US citizenship. The third is to provide protection from deportation for non-citizens who immigrated to the US as children.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:46 AM on March 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


The article talks about naturalization papers because those are the specific papers his parents were supposed to fill out but never did. They weren't given any other options. The laws that would have made it easier for him to stay in the US legally came into effect long after he was an adult.
posted by divabat at 8:24 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


So basically, we need at least three fixes. The first is to pass a law automatically granting citizenship to anyone who has ever been adopted by an American citizen. The second is to make it much easier and cheaper for permanent residents to apply for US citizenship. The third is to provide protection from deportation for non-citizens who immigrated to the US as children.

Or you could rework the immigration system for everyone and stop being monstrous assholes to people who actually want to sacrifice their previous lives to come live in your country of immigrants. But that's just crazy talk and way outside the overton window.
posted by srboisvert at 8:59 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


He was arrested in September 2013 for assault and violating a restraining order.

Not disagreeing with you, but I can't find a source for that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:45 AM on March 6, 2015


I am neither unsympathetic to him nor ignorant of the issues involved — my wife came to the U.S. as an infant and was adopted as a young child by an American citizen but was never naturalized. We're working on that, but stories like this make me anxious about her status and it's annoying that TFA seems to deliberately omit information about this guy's situation because (and here I'm assuming the info in the thread about his arrest for assault is correct) it might make him look bad. I know it's advocacy journalism, but it should be honest about what's happening. As I said, I think it's unconscionable to threaten anyone in this kid's situation with deportation. But, as someone with a fairly personal stake in similar issues, I wish the linked article told me what his situation really is.
posted by Mothlight at 10:09 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sigh.

There's another deportation story out with Nan-Hui Jo.

I just get the feeling that whatever that French statue near New York City says, we actually don't give a flying fuck about immigrants, mostly because we really don't want them here.
posted by qcubed at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mothlight: when your wife came over to the US as a child, was the PR granted automatically (like on arrival or prior to arrival) or was it up to the parents to get the paperwork sorted?
posted by divabat at 12:54 PM on March 6, 2015


Not disagreeing with you, but I can't find a source for that.
I think this is a reasonably sleazy site, but I googled him and found arrest records here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:41 PM on March 6, 2015


Divabat, the PR was granted automatically. (I misremembered this; I thought she got it as an adult.)
posted by Mothlight at 9:09 PM on March 6, 2015


argh, I wish I jumped into this thread earlier because it seems like a lot of the beanplating here is confusion over terms like residency vs. naturalization vs. documentation. I've lived in this country for 20+ years without a green card and under various levels of visa coverage. Here's a general primer over various visa categories that you can get into and what it permits you to do.

illegal entry alien - smuggled into the country either via coyote or other means. never had a visa or any 'documents' therefore closed off from being able to get a Social Security Number and cannot apply for things like drivers licenses or bank accounts.

tourist or other short-term alien - entered the country on a tourist visa or other status that usually does not permit work and only permits individual to stay in the US for something like 30 or 90 days. Also typically cannot apply for a SSN, and therefore doesn't have access to other documents that can help support legitimacy in the US. Typical story for undocumented status is that they overstayed past their permitted duration and started taking jobs under the table

student or work permitted alien - entered the country on a visa that actually permits work and therefore grants them access to having an SSN. All of these visas have a time limit (student visas are limited to graduation + (I think) 18 months of on-the-job training or OPT, H1's are good for six years). Some of these visas allow you to apply for permanent residency, some don't. Often, you have to find an employer who is willing to sponsor you for a visa category that is Green Card eligible and is also willing to sponsor the Green Card. If you don't get a Green Card by the time of expiration you have to try to jump to another visa or you're going to be considered in violation. However, you have an SSN, so you can get a drivers license, open bank accounts, get a job, even buy property.

family-sponsored alien - entered the country as an adoptee or as a child, sibling or spouse who was being sponsored by an American citizen for permanent residency. usually has an easy time but can still get fucked if the relationship with the citizen ends because of death, divorce, etc. before the process and paperwork is completed.

For the last two categories, if you overstay, nobody comes after you, but if you get arrested you could get deported and there are exile penalties for overstaying. Also, typically, if you leave, getting a new visa to return to the US is going to take so long that you won't be able to maintain your job, home, etc. here. So, this is a common scenario for folks like Juan Antonio Vargas or other folks in the undocumented movement, as well as the poor fellow in this article. They have bank accounts. They have cars. They can act normal. But they can't ever leave without giving it all up.

permanent resident - these are aliens who've managed to either through lottery, family sponsorship, employment, marriage, or military service earned a Green Card that grants them permanent residency. They aren't yet naturalized and haven't gotten citizenship, so can't vote or serve on juries, but they can travel freely, switch jobs freely and do almost everything else. However, it is still possible for permanent residency to be revoked in the case of criminal arrest or extended absence from the US (ie. you move back to your home country to take care of a sick relative)

the basic gist is, if you want to live in this country, you need to get citizenship. That's the only point where you ever get to relax and not feel like there's a sword hanging over your head.

though, fwiw, divabat, I'm also a non white person who comes from a country known for Muslim terrorists. I attend my share of political rallies and protests. I just opt out of the civil disobedience stuff or anything that has a whiff of arrest potential, and I just don't exercise that part of what American citizens enjoy as their right to free speech. Volunteering as a street medic or legal observer is usually useful in this in that while it's not a bulletproof guarantee against being swept up in an arrest, it does help keep you somewhat separate from the action when the cops sweep in.

Basically, it's still possible to do a part for social justice as an immigrant, but I understand and sympathize with the caution that comes from getting arrested. Being an immigrant usually means being ten times as compliant with the law as everyone else, because we don't have any political representation that can intervene in times of unjust treatment. So it's best not to place oneself in too much risk
posted by bl1nk at 6:35 AM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


thanks bl1nk!

Just to amend one part: OPTs usually are 12 months, though the longer period for STEM degrees is a new development. Also you don't automatically qualify for a SSN with a student visa - you have to get approval from your school to do work-study before you can apply.
posted by divabat at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2015


Yeah, thats a good summary bl1nk. Unfortunately, acquiring citizenship can have drawbacks too (like possibly losing citizenship in your home country), so there is no "perfect" solution. I know quite a few people who are happy enough with their green card, but it depends a lot on who you are, what country you're from, what possible complications you could have, etc...
posted by thefoxgod at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2015


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