The Back Door In: Private Adoption Bills and Family Creation in Post WWII America

My current research project has me digging into US Congressional Records (printed and archival) to trace cases where American families living abroad (mostly military) adopted children who did not qualify for immigration to the US. The programs giving immigration status to such children were shifting and temporary in the period 1945 – 1961, and they had very precise terms. For families who adopted and then could not get immigration status for their children, the remedy was an extremely cumbersome process to request an act of Congress (a law) be passed for the express purpose of allowing this one child to enter. Children might be denied entry under the “regular” stream because they were of Asian heritage (this was an automatic exclusion factor to 1953), because they were too old, because they came from the wrong country, because programmes were oversubscribed. Usually, the immigration mechanism was declare the “alien” child to be the natural born child of the adoptive parents.  Yah.  Think about that.

To secure a law, parents had to navigate a complex political system and convince members of the House and Senate Immigration Committees that they (the adoptive parents) deserved this special process and that they would raise the child to be a good American citizen. (This was decidedly not a social work “best interests of the child” kind of investigation.)

Adoptive parents pulled favours and sent in whatever documents they had that could plead their case and/or establish their legal right to this child.  Some of those documents were inevitably discarded, but some ended up in archival files for the Immigration Committees.  I work with those archival files, paired with a printed summary of the major evidence in each case that was distributed to members of the Congress and Senate who had to vote on each case.  This kind of report is standard for any piece of legislation a member is asked to vote on. The printed files are both an amazing historical source, and a little shocking because they contain (in a printed, publicly available report) an astounding amount of really intimate information that should not be public. (Hence, my long conversations about ethics with archivists). Hence, you are seeing a blacked out version.