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Cali Owings, Published August 02 2013

Fargo man's immigration story starts in India, ends in ND

FARGO – When Lynn Crews and his three siblings arrived at the Seattle airport in 1979, they were greeted by reporters from the Seattle Times, USA Today and local television stations.

The siblings had just flown more than 9,000 miles from India to Seattle and would have one more flight before reaching their new home in Hood River, Ore.

“We thought it was because we were being adopted,” Crews said.

But the frenzy was for Crews who, at the age of 14, was the recipient of a private congressional relief bill that allowed his parents to adopt him even though he was older than the law allowed.

Crews’ immigration story doesn’t end there. He went on to work as an immigration officer for the Department of Homeland Security for 10 years in Arizona and briefly on the Canadian border.

The 48-year-old originally came to Fargo on his way to Williston to be a part of the “booming oil business in western North Dakota.”

But Fargo is more than a pit stop for Crews, who said he’s grown to like it here and “found his niche” working at Dakota Molding.

Crews’ story is unique, said Clayton Harsch, one of Crews’ first friends in Fargo. The pair met at the Petro station on 45th Street. They ran into each other there often before Crews introduced himself and Willert invited him to church.

“I’m a dual citizen from Canada, so we have some things in common that we could share,” Harsch said. “But we never talked with anybody who had a bill named after them before.”

As Congress takes a break from discussing proposed immigration reform, Crews shared his experience – both as an immigrant and immigration law enforcer.

Bombay beginnings

After their parents died from jaundice, Crews and his three siblings were orphaned in Bombay, now Mumbai, India.

The siblings stayed at Catholic orphanages for four years. At Our Lady’s Home, the orphanage director asked the three boys if they wanted to be adopted. Their sister was at a separate Catholic orphanage for girls.

Two German families planned to adopt the siblings, but they would be split up.

Jim and Diane Crews, of Hood River, found the siblings in a portfolio of adoptable children from all over the world and decided to increase their family of four to eight.

The adoption process was lengthy. During that time, Lynn turned 14, which was over the legal age for adoption.

Jim and Diane Crews contacted their local legislators, including Sen. Mark Hatfield and Rep. Al Ullman, hoping to get an exception for Lynn, the oldest of the siblings, through a private relief bill.

Private relief bills are most often in the realm of immigration and naturalization law. A great proportion of those bills are proposed in favor of foreign-born minors seeking to be adopted by citizens, and family reunification cases.

They’ve become increasingly difficult to obtain in recent years; only one was passed in 2012.

But in 1979, the U.S. Senate passed a bill “for the relief of Lynn Rufus Pereira.”

“Sen. Hatfield called my folks directly and said ‘The Congressional Act for Lynn Crews has passed,” Crews said.

He said his adoptive parents had “no political pull” – they both worked for a telephone company.

After nearly two years, the Crews were finally able to adopt the four siblings from India.

They quickly settled in to their new community of about 4,000 people. Media would periodically visit the family for some of the children’s milestones, such as like their first Thanksgiving and first trip to McDonald’s.

Crews said he loved the wide open spaces, being able to camp and fish and shopping on Sundays after church.

“I missed some of the food of course,” Crews said. “We ate a lot of normal stuff … lasagna and spaghetti.”

Immigration reform

Crews was the first of his siblings to graduate from high school – just five years later – and join the Navy. His two brothers followed suit and his sister joined the Air Force.

“So all of us four kids from India went into the service,” he said.

After he left the Navy, Crews became an immigration officer for the Department of Homeland Security in Phoenix. He was one of several immigration officers sent to “beef up” the Canadian border after Sept. 11.

Crews said the process became more streamlined throughout his 10 years in immigration. The waiting times aren’t what they used to be and there’s more staff to process the number of people coming to the U.S.

Still, Crews said reform is “long overdue.”

The Senate passed immigration reform legislation in June, including a plan backed by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to increase security on the southern border. The package was shut down in the House.

Now that Congress is in recess until Sept. 9, many proponents of immigration reform hope the chambers will reach a compromise when they return.

Crews said he supports most points in Hoeven’s plan, and a “balanced approach” to reform that includes more visas for educated workers and “a legal path to citizenship” for the thousands of people living and working in the U.S. undocumented.

“A lot of them are already contributing a lot of things as far as their work, skills and culture,” Crews said.

“Overall, I think people want a better, streamlined process,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599