Today, the House of Representatives passed legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, that seeks to help Korean American families reunite with loved ones in North Korea.
The Divided Families Reunification Act (H.R. 826) would require the U.S. Secretary of State--or a designee of the Secretary--to consult with South Korean officials on potential family reunion opportunities for American families and their relatives in North Korea. It would also require the State Department to consult bi-annually with representatives of Americans with family members in North Korea about its efforts to support family reunions, and to report to Congress on opportunities to utilize video conference technology to encourage virtual reunions.
Meng's bill passed the House as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which is the annual defense spending legislation, and includes numerous foreign policy priorities. The measure now heads to the Senate.
Thousands of Korean Americans have been separated from their relatives in North Korea since the Korean War. Since 2000, South Korea and North Korea have held over 20 family reunions; however, there has not been an official channel for Korean Americans to be included.
Meng noted that time is not on the side of many Korean Americans with relatives in North Korea as many are currently in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.
"My heart continues to ache for the thousands of Korean Americans who continue to be separated from their loved ones," said Congresswoman Meng. "For decades, they have been desperately hoping to be reunified with family members, and continue to do so. Helping to end this long and painful ordeal so that they can see their loved ones again has been a top priority of mine. I thank all who have supported this critical legislation, and look forward to it passing into law soon."
"Although the hostilities of the Korean War ended nearly seventy years ago, many Korean American families in Hawaii and across our country continue to suffer its consequence and are unable to see or connect with family members still in North Korea," said Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI). "Family separation is wrong, and these families deserve the opportunity to reconnect with their loved ones. I'm glad we were able to take this meaningful step in this year's NDAA."
"As a Korean American who grew up in South Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, I understand and have great empathy for Korean Americans' continued separation from their families in North Korea," said Rep. Young Kim (R-CA). "That is why I have been pushing for family reunifications since before my time in Congress. I am thrilled we can finally get this done as time is running out to make these reunifications a reality."
"One of the great tragedies of the prolonged Korean War are the numerous divided families," said Abraham Kim, Executive Director of the Council of Korean Americans. "Koreans who have immigrated to the U.S. have no means to find and reconnect with their loved ones in North Korea. Although time is running out, Representative Meng's legislation opens a pathway and hope for these aging separated families. We applaud this ongoing effort to unify families."
"Millions of Korean families throughout the world, including those of Korean Americans, remain divided from their relatives in North Korea, with no contact or news, seventy years after the Korean War," said Ambassador (ret) Kathleen Stephens, President and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America. "Congresswoman Grace Meng's bill spurs attention to the U.S. and South Korea working together to reunite families. I applaud her leadership."
"Passing Congresswoman Meng's Divided Families Reunification Act is more relevant and timely than ever especially since North Korea's borders are still closed due to COVID-19, and diplomatic negotiations remain at a standstill," said Jason Ahn, Board Chair of Divided Families USA. "I thank Congresswoman Meng for her continued leadership on this crucial issue."
"We at KAGC are deeply grateful for the indelible leadership of Rep. Meng, Rep. Taylor, Rep. Bass, and Rep. Young Kim in their bipartisan efforts towards commonsense issues like family reunification," said Wonseok Song, Executive Director of the Korean American Grassroots Conference. "Including this amendment will bring hope to thousands of families who have suffered long from overdue legislation, and who are now one day closer to embracing their aged loved ones. We look forward to the horizons of healing that this development brings forth for mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren. We celebrate this momentous milestone for the hope and peace it brings to the Korean Peninsula."
In addition to sponsoring the Divided Families Reunification Act since 2019, Meng last year received a commitment to address the issue from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She also sent letters to the previous administration calling for the issue to be prioritized.