August 20, 2021

Hirono, Sullivan Introduce Bill to Reunite Korean Americans with Family Members in North Korea

Bill directs the State Department to establish a formal process for Korean Americans to participate in reunions with their families in North Korea

HONOLULU – Last week, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced the bipartisan Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act, legislation directing the U.S. Secretary of State to establish a formal process to help Korean American families reunite with family members that remain in North Korea.

“For nearly seventy years, too many Korean Americans have been separated from their loved ones in North Korea. Carol Li, a constituent of mine from Honolulu, understands this pain firsthand,” Senator Hirono said. “Her maternal grandparents were separated from their siblings when they fled North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War. While her grandparents passed away before they were able to reconnect with their siblings, Carol wants the opportunity to meet her North Korean relatives during future reunions. This bipartisan legislation works to make that happen.”

“An enduring tragedy of the Korean War is the thousands of families whose ties, like the peninsula, were severed along the thirty-eighth parallel,” said Senator Sullivan. “Fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters awoke one day to the reality that they would likely never see or hear from their families again, all due to an impenetrable border and hostilities between the North and South. I believe there is new hope for these family members to connect and possibly reunite, if even for a short time. I’m glad to join Senator Hirono in reintroducing this legislation as part of a bipartisan effort to help secure a clear process for these families, including many in Alaska, to finally connect with their long-lost loved ones after decades of separation.”

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

“It’s heartbreaking that so many families have had no contact for almost 70 years as a result of an agreement that was signed after the end of the Korean War,” Senator Duckworth said. “I’m proud to be helping Senators Hirono and Sullivan re-introduce this important bipartisan legislation that would urge the State Department to create a clear process for reunions between Korean Americans and loved ones they were separated from so long ago.” 

“Thousands of Korean Americans have been cut off from their family in North Korea for almost seven decades because of the agreement signed after the Korean War ended,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This bipartisan legislation would offer hope to many families and direct the State Department to create a clear path to help Korean Americans reunite with their loved ones.”

“The continued separation of Korean families is one of the most tragic consequences of the ongoing Korean War, and time is running out for many of them. I applaud Senator Hirono for reintroducing the Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act to help facilitate the reunion of these long-divided families, which will be critical to healing this deep wound caused by the unresolved war,” Christine Ahn, Founder and Executive Director, Women Cross DMZ, said.

Since July 23, 1953, the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, there has been minimal to no contact between Korean Americans and family members who remain in North Korea. However, since 1985, North Korea and South Korea have had multiple video and face-to face reunions, providing 24,500 Koreans with the opportunity to briefly see their family. The last reunion took place in August 2018 and did not include Korean Americans.

Senators Hirono and Sullivan previously introduced this bill in 2020.

The Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act bill text is available here.