The practice of transnational, transracial adoptions gained popularity starting with the adoption of Korean children during the Korean War (1950-53). Euro-American families felt compelled to rescue children from the poor and beleaguered nation, particularly mixed race children produced by relationships between U.S. military personnel and Korean women. Until recently, Korean law categorized illegitimate children with no access to social services such as schools and health care in Korean society, giving the mothers little choice but to put their children up for adoption. During the 1950s, the children, not all of whom were orphans, were admitted under stopgap refugee measures. Advocates such as Henry and Bertha Holt and Pearl Buck campaigned for regular legislation for the admission of foreign adoptees, which resulted in this law categorizing their immigration as a form of family reunification. This law provided for regular admission of international adoptees as nonquota immigrants.
To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act; and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section 101 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101) is hereby amended by adding the following new subparagraph (6) :
” (6) The term ‘eligible orphan’ means any alien child under the age of fourteen at the time at which the visa petition is filed pursuant to section 205(b) who is an orphan because of the death or disappearance of both parents, or because of abandonment, or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents, or who has only one parent due to the death or disappearance of, abandonment, or desertion by, or separation or loss from the other parent, and the remaining parent is incapable of providing care for such orphan and has in writing irrevocably released him for emigration and adoption.
” SEC. 2. Section 101(b) (1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act 171; 71 (8 U.S.C. 1101) is hereby amended by adding the following:
“(F) a child who is an eligible orphan, adopted abroad by a United States citizen and spouse or coming to the United States for adoption by a United States citizen and spouse: Provided^ That no natural parent or prior adoptive parent of any such child shall thereafter, by virtue of such parentage be accorded any right, privilege, or status under this Act.”
… No petition for nonquota immigrant status in behalf of a child as defined in section 101(b) (1) (F) shall be approved by the Attorney General unless the petitioner establishes to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that the petitioner and spouse will care for such child properly if he is admitted to the United States, and (i) in the case of a child adopted abroad, that the petitioner and spouse personally saw and observed the child prior to or during the adoption proceedings, and (ii) in the case of a child coming to the United States for adoption, that the petitioner and spouse have complied with the preadoption requirements, if any, of the State of such child’s proposed residence…
Analysis of Act from A. Oh:
The 1961 act definitely marked the Korean child’s legal transformation from refugee to immigrant by elevating foreign-born adopted children from the legal status of “eligible orphan” to the more privileged category of “immediate relative.” The 1957 act had required that a child first apply for admission through the quota system. If the quota for the child’s country of origin was oversubscribed, she could then receive a special non=quota immigrant visa based on her status as an “eligible orphan.” As of 1961, Korean children bypassed the quota system altogether. As family members who entered the United States with the status of “immediate relatives,” they benefited from the immigration system’s emphasis on family reunification, even when it conflicted with race-based exclusion (p. 150).
Oh, A. H. (2015). To save the children of Korea: The Cold War origins of international adoption. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.