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Monday, June 5, 2023

The U.S. deported him. A Korean court says his adoption agency owes him.


An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the adoption agency ordered by a Korean court to pay damages to an adoptee. It was Holt Children’s Services, not Holt International Children’s Services. The story also misspelled the name of one of Adam Crapser’s adoptive parents. Her name is Dolly Crapser, not Dollar Crapser. The article has been corrected.

SEOUL — When Shin Song-hyuk was 3 years old, he was sent from South Korea to adoptive parents in the United States, where he would ultimately become Adam Crapser.

That first couple relinquished him, and, after a journey through various foster homes, a second couple, Thomas and Dolly Crapser, adopted him. But they abused him and their other adopted children and were later convicted of criminal mistreatment and assault.

Despite all this, Crapser built a life for himself, opening a barbershop before deciding to become a stay-at-home father. But that life was turned upside down when he was deported to South Korea in 2016, after it was discovered that none of his adoptive parents had obtained U.S. citizenship for him. Run-ins with the law — including a burglary conviction after he broke into his parents’ house to retrieve a Bible and rubber shoes brought from South Korea, and a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm — made him eligible for deportation.

The lapse could be laid at the feet of many: either set of adoptive parents, U.S. laws, or, according to a South Korean court ruling this week, the adoption agency.

The Seoul Central District Court ordered Holt Children’s Services to pay Crapser about $75,000 in damages after he sued the agency and the South Korean government, alleging they were liable for his botched adoption.

The ruling is the first such judicial reprimand of a South Korean adoption agency, and was seen by many in the adoptee rights community as a powerful rebuke of the country’s adoption industry, which critics allege has long been tainted by negligence and falsified records.

Specifics from the judgment were not immediately clear, although the court did not rule against the South Korean government, which Crapser alleged created the conditions that made a poorly regulated adoption industry possible. The Justice Ministry did not return a request for comment.

Holt, the South Korean adoption agency, said in a statement that it was “difficult to comment on the position of the agency at this time” because the full details of the ruling had not yet been made available. The agency was founded in 1956 by an evangelical couple, Harry and Bertha Holt, who adopted eight Korean children in the 1950s and are largely credited — by academics, proponents and critics — for starting the wave of international adoptions from South Korea and elsewhere.

Americans adopted this South Korean man when he was 3. Now 41, he’s being deported.

Kim Sujung, one of Crapser’s lawyers, said in a news conference after the ruling that it was “extremely regrettable that the courts found no liability in a government that has managed, led, planned and approved illegal overseas adoptions.”

Hwang Joon-hyup, another lawyer representing Crapser, said that South Korea had “led the practice of foreign adoptions” by permitting adoption agencies to send children — scholars estimate the figure is nearly 200,000 — away from the country.

Speaking on a local radio program, he added that the government “was aware of the dangers overseas adoptees face when they fail to receive citizenship,” and should have followed up to confirm the children were properly naturalized in their adoptive countries.

Hwang and Kim did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. Crapser, who has spoken publicly about the challenges of living in South Korea after deportation — he did not speak Korean when he arrived in his 40s — is reportedly living in Mexico to be closer to his family. He could not be reached for comment.

Other adoptees have recently challenged the South Korean government and adoption agencies for alleged negligence in various international adoptions, ranging from sloppy record-keeping to the intentional swapping of babies and their identities.

“The ruling is very encouraging and significant for adoptees because it proves that an agency like Holt can be held responsible,” said a representative for the Australia and United States Korean Rights Group, which is pushing for a probe of adoptions made through another South Korean adoption agency, in an emailed statement.

“An alarming pattern has emerged, leading us to believe that the issues we have uncovered were neither accidental nor individual incidents but rather part of a systemic process,” the statement said.

Peter Moller, a Danish lawyer who was adopted through Holt and has found discrepancies in his records, said the ruling in Crapser’s case “can be used for other adoption cases,” potentially paving the way for additional lawsuits. He leads the Danish Korean Rights Group, which has submitted adoption cases to South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for review. The commission is investigating 372 adoptions to determine whether human rights violations were made; Crapser’s is not among those cases.

“In the last six months, adoptees have learned more about the adoption methods from Holt and the other adoption agencies,” Moller said in an email.

If it is found that parts of the ruling can be applied to other adoption cases, “Holt should prepare themselves for a cascade of lawsuits,” he said.

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