Today, U.S. Representatives Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Divided Families Reunification Act of 2019. H.R. 1771 directs the U.S. Department of State to consult with South Korean officials on how to reunite Korean American families with family members in North Korea, as well as to fill the vacancy in the position of "Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea." While the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced a number of resolutions that have raised awareness about this difficult subject, this bill would compel the State Department to take diplomatic steps to address this tragedy.
Since the Korean War, an estimated 100,000 Korean Americans have been separated from their family members. While the United States and North Korea do not have a formal reunification program, North and South Korea have held over 20 reunions for their divided families since 2000. However, American citizens of Korean descent have been excluded from such reunions.
"Too many Korean Americans died not knowing what happened to their parents, their siblings, and their children. Imagine saying goodbye to a loved one, thinking you would reunite after the war concluded. Nearly seventy years later, you still haven't been able to see your family," said Congressman Woodall. "It's time for Congress to build on the President's diplomatic efforts with North Korea and find a resolution."
"There are so many American families who desperately want to reunite with their loved ones in North Korea and my bill would go a long way towards making that happen," said Congresswoman Meng. "These families have tragically been separated since the Korean War and that separation has been long and painful. These families deserve to see their loved ones again. Americans who have relatives in North Korea are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Time is not on their side which is why we must immediately pass my bill to provide much needed relief for these divided families."
"The tragic legacy of the Korean War has left a generation of families divided without knowing if they will ever see their loved ones again," said Eric Kim, President of the National Unification Advisory Council's Atlanta Chapter. "I welcome any efforts to peacefully resolve the division on the Korean Peninsula and urge the President and Congress to take the necessary steps to increase dialogue and engagement so that these families may be reunited and a lasting peace and prosperity emerges for Koreans everywhere."
The Republic of Korea, often referred to as "South Korea," and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, often referred to as "North Korea," remain divided since the armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.
The division on the Korean Peninsula separated more than 10,000,000 Korean family members, including some who are now citizens of the United States.
The number of more than 100,000 estimated divided family members in the United States last identified in 2001 has been significantly dwindling as many of them have passed away.
To date, there have been 21 rounds of family reunions between South Koreans and North Koreans along the border since 2000.
Congress signaled its interest in family reunions between United States citizens and their relatives in North Korea in section 1265 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 28, 2008.
The summit between North Korea and South Korea on April 27, 2018, prioritized family reunions.
Congressman Woodall represents the Seventh Congressional District of Georgia, which includes significant portions of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties. He currently serves on the Rules Committee, the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and the Budget Committee.