AIFS seminar series presentation

10:00 am - 11:15 am, Tuesday 28 May 2013, AIFS Seminar Room, Level 20, 485 La Trobe Street, Melbourne

The back door in: Private immigration bills and transnational adoption to the US 1945-1961

Associate Professor Karen Balcom

Listen to the presentation audio (MP3 8.13 MB) | Read audio transcript

Dr Karen Balcom is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and the Programme in Gender Studies and Feminist Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She has research interests in the history of childhood in the United States and Canada, and more specifically in the history of transnational child adoption.

She is the author of The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 (University of Toronto Press, 2011). In 2012, the book was awarded the Albert B. Corey Prize of the American Historical Association and the Canadian Historical Association for work connecting the United States and Canada.

Her current research takes on the relationships between immigration law and the practice of transnational adoption.

Dr Balcom is in Australia on research leave, hosted by the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.


In the fifteen years following the Second World War, US legislators created the legal framework for transnational adoption to the United States through various pieces of legislation which were part of a larger series of debates over the shape and intention of US immigration policy in this period. There were many stops, starts, proposals and controversies along the way. At the same time, there was a backdoor for the admission of adopted or to-be adopted children through the hundreds of private immigration laws passed by Congress to allow the admission of children who could not qualify under the existing legislative framework.

Dr Balcom's research highlights the stories of adopting families, of relinquishing families and of children pulled apart and thrown back together in new familial arrangements in the aftermath of world war, civil war, poverty and dislocation.

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