Why were 8,327 foreign born nonwhite children adopted by white American families in 1984 when approximately 50,000-100,000 U.S. children in foster care were legally free for adoption (U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service)? Why were almost 85 percent of the children who were placed by one of New York City's largest adoption agencies foreign born?1 Why is it more difficult for white families to adopt parentless nonwhite children within U.S. borders than children born in Pusan, Korea, or Bogota, Columbia?
Many of these questions can be answered by examining the social characteristics of America's waiting children and the adoption practices of the agencies responsible for them. In the United States, most children available for adoption in 1985 were older, nonwhite, physically and/or emotionally handicapped, or part of a sibling group. To a large extent, intercountry adoption (ICA) can be explained by the fact that so many of these children are nonwhite, predominantly black. It appears that many agencies continue to frown upon and therefore discourage adoption across racial lines. In contrast, the procedures involved for an ICA are comparatively simple, and the results in many cases are remarkably quick. These developments clearly operate in favor of ICA.
Intercountry adoption is the (unintended) result of efforts by the United States and other Western countries to rescue orphaned children after World War II.2 Religious institutions were largely instrumental in locating permanent homes for these children with adoptive parents in Western countries. The Ko-