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 excluded illegitimate children from social services such as schools and health care, giving the mothers little choice but to put their children up for adoption. During the 1950s, Korean children were admitted under stopgap refugee measures. Advocates campaigned for legislation for the admission of foreign adoptees, which resulted in this law categorizing their immigration as a form of family reunification outside of national immigration quota restrictions.
” 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 . . . 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.