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house Bill H.R. 1771

Should the State Dept. Work With North Korea to Reunite Korean-Americans With Family in North Korea?

Argument in favor

Although North and South Korea have held 20 family reunification events to reunite South Koreans with North Korean family members, these events haven’t had official channels to include Korean-Americans. Consequently, Korean Americans with family in North Korea haven’t been able to see loved ones in that country for decades. Creating an official channel to support family reunification efforts would bolster U.S. government efforts to reunify Korean-Americans with loved ones in North Korea.

jimK's Opinion
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03/08/2020
Small steps are key to larger diplomatic gains. This is the right thing to do for the separated families to reunite. This is something that can be agreed to with North Korea and provide a foundation to build a better, safer future with step-by-step diplomacy.
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Leslie's Opinion
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03/08/2020
Family reunification could be the 1st step towards other interactions! Thank you Jamie Raskin for voting, “Yea”. @Becca: I don’t see where @LaRubia has suggested reunification. All that has been suggested is that family reunification is one of many steps that could occur between neighboring countries that should have travel & trade interactions like the YS & Canada but no one has ever suggested these two neighboring countries be unified.
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Robert 's Opinion
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03/09/2020
Lets try diplomacy instead of threats of military intervention.
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Argument opposed

The U.S. government — and particularly Congress — is already expending meaningful energy on efforts to reunite Korean-Americans with family members in North Korea. The lack of progress on this front is due largely to lack of political will at the executive level in both countries, as well as the high probability of North Korea asking for remuneration to house families (which the U.S. is unlikely to accept as a condition); as this bill doesn’t address these major stumbling blocks, it’s unlikely to make much progress.

burrkitty's Opinion
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03/09/2020
This is one of those things that sounds really nice in theory but in reality may be very dangerous. NK has routinely punished the remaining families of escapees. Im not 100% sure Identifying and seeking out the remaining families of our citizens is a good choice. For their safety or the safety of their families. Assuming they are still alive at all. A oppressive dictatorship with a statistically high chance of retaliation against the families of escapees... surely you can see how badly this can go. You’re just creating deadly hostage situations by identifying them. I just can’t say this is a good idea no matter how sad a painful it must be for them. The danger to the families in North Korea is so high.
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Lisa's Opinion
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03/08/2020
No,the price would be too high and North Korea does not keep promises.
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Jacquelyn's Opinion
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03/10/2020
I wouldn't trust NK to not cause an international incident by saying we were sending spies, or taking an American for some other reason.
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What is House Bill H.R. 1771?

This bill would direct the State Dept. to consult with South Korea on potential opportunities to reunite Korean-Americans with family in North Korea. To this end, the State Dept.’s Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues would periodically consult with representatives of Korean-Americans with family in North Korea on reunification efforts. 

The State Department would periodically report to Congress on the progress of consultations to reunite Korean-Americans with family in North Korea, and the special envoy would report to Congress on the possible use of video reunions between Korean Americans and their family in North Korea.

Impact

Korean-Americans with family in North Korea; State Dept.; State Dept.’s Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues; Secretary of State; North Korea; and North Korean administration officials involved in family reunification.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1771

The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would cost less than $500,000 over the 2020-2024 period.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced this bill to require the Secretary of State and U.S. Special Envoy on North Korea Human Rights Issues to prioritize helping divided Korean-American families reunite with family members in North Korea

“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. 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.”

After this bill’s unanimous passage by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Meng said

“The Korean War was a heart wrenching event that split the peninsula in two, forcing many families apart, and since then, family relations between both Koreas have been suspended in time,” said Meng. “My heart aches when I think of the thousands of Koreans who yearn to see and hold their loved ones in North Korea but can’t because of the vestiges of the Cold War. While South Koreans have been able to participate in limited family reunions, Korean Americans have not been privy to those opportunities. For these divided families, the so-called ‘Forgotten War’ cannot ever be forgotten. Helping Korean Americans—many who reside in Queens—reunite with their family members in North Korea is a top priority of mine, and my bill would help them finally see their loved ones. I want to thank House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel and House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation Chairman Sherman for their support and advancing through my bill. I am also grateful to the many Korean American advocacy groups who have championed this legislation. I look forward to passing this bill in the House of Representatives and seeing it enacted into law.”

In addition to introducing this legislation, Rep. Meng has also sent two letters to President Donald Trump (one in October 2018 and another in February 2019) urging him to prioritize family reunification. As of this bill’s introduction in March 2019, Rep. Meng had yet to receive a response from the president. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who introduced companion legislation to this bill in the Senate on March 5, 2020, adds

“Reuniting Korean Americans who were separated from their loved ones in North Korea seven decades ago is an urgent moral imperative. This important legislation calls on the State Department to advocate for the inclusion of Korean Americans in reunions between divided families in North and South Korea. The reality is most divided family members are in their 80s and 90s so we must act swiftly to give these families the opportunity to reconnect.”  

Senate cosponsor Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) says

“An enduring tragedy of the Korean War is the thousands of families whose ties, like the peninsula, were severed along the thirty-eighth parallel. 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. Given the changing dynamics in this bilateral relationship, 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 working to secure a clear process for these families, including many in Alaska, to finally connect with their long-lost loved ones after decades of separation.”

Wonseok Song, Executive Director of the Korean American Grassroots Conference (KAGC), the largest nationwide network of Korean American voters, expressed KAGC’s support for this legislation after Sens. Hirono and Sullivan introduced the Senate version:

“We deeply appreciate Senator Hirono and Senator Sullivan for their compassion, comity, and collaboration to bring together families torn apart by the Korean War,” said Wonseok Song, Executive Director of the Korean American Grassroots Conference (KAGC), the largest nationwide network of Korean American voters. “It has been over 70 years since the last time Korean Americans were able to contact, let alone meet, their family members left behind in North Korea. It is long overdue that a humanitarian measure with a concrete plan like a family reunion is prioritized in our policy toward the Korean peninsula. The Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act is a monumental progress, not only because it is the first time the Senate took action on this matter since 2015 — but more importantly because, unlike resolutions offered in the past in both chambers, this is the first bill ever to propose a substantial action plan.”

Olivia Enos, Senior Policy at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, and Yujin Kim, Asian Fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, expressed support for family reunification in a January 15, 2020 commentary piece

“[H]osting family reunions might be a small issue where Washington and Pyongyang can make progress and maintain momentum in negotiations. Family reunions may also provide an opportunity for Seoul and Washington to work together. The South Korean government has years of experience hosting family reunions with North Korea and may be able to assist the U.S. as it considers a tenable process to start hosting family reunions. The reunification of ethnic-Korean families, especially those involving Americans, should be a priority for policymakers.”

This legislation passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee by unanimous consent with the support of 43 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 38 Democrats and five Republicans. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), has one Senate cosponsor, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).

Divided Families USA, Korean Americans in Action, Korean American Grassroots Conference, and the Korean American Association of Greater New York support this legislation.


Of NoteAfter the end of the Korean War in 1953, the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has been divided from the democratic Republic of Korea (South Korea) by the 38th parallel -- which separated millions of Koreans from their families. Since the end of the war, no exchanges of letters, telephone calls, or emails have been allowed between North and South Koreans.

North Korea and South Korea have established a reunion program where the divided families meet for a few hours on the border between the two countries. However, the frequency of the reunions has been subject to the political and militaristic tensions between the neighboring nations, and have been stopped and restarted several times since their creation.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification reports that 133,361 people are registered in the Divide Family Information System. This system classifies families into four groups:

  • Opponents of the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, who originally found refuge in Manchuria and later made their way to Korea;
  • Those separated while fleeing from the Korean War;
  • Prisoners of war from the Korean War; and
  • Abductees taken to North Korea both during and after the Korean War.

Since 2000, South Korea and North Korea have held over 20 family reunions. However, there hasn’t been an official channel for Korean-Americans’ inclusion in these events.

Congress has been considering ways to reunite divided Korean families since 2007, when it founded the Congressional Commission on Divided Families to investigate this issue. Historically lack of political will at the executive branch level in both the U.S. and North Korea has stymied progress towards reuniting families. Recently, family reunions weren’t raised at either of the U.S.-North Korea summits in Singapore or Hanoi. In October 2019, working-level talks between U.S. and North Korean counterparts in Stockholm concluded without an agreement.

When the Voice of America asked about family reunions after the Singapore summit, the State Dept. reiterated a previous statement expressing its commitment to building a close relationships with North Korea for peace and prosperity. 

For its part, North Korea has made a limited number of statements on family reunions: in August 2017, its Permanent Mission to the U.N. sent the Northern California Council on Korean Americans from North Korea a letter saying that it would actively support the association’s family reunion projects. 

Payment for family reunification may be a stumbling block. If family reunions are broached as a topic during negotiations, it’s likely that Pyongyang will seek compensation in return for hosting families—this is an unreasonable demand that the U.S. is unlikely to meet.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell and Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: Voice of America via Wikimedia / Public Domain)

AKA

Divided Families Reunification Act

Official Title

Divided Families Reunification Act

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house Passed March 9th, 2020
    Roll Call Vote 391 Yea / 0 Nay
    IntroducedMarch 14th, 2019

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    Small steps are key to larger diplomatic gains. This is the right thing to do for the separated families to reunite. This is something that can be agreed to with North Korea and provide a foundation to build a better, safer future with step-by-step diplomacy.
    Like (56)
    Follow
    Share
    This is one of those things that sounds really nice in theory but in reality may be very dangerous. NK has routinely punished the remaining families of escapees. Im not 100% sure Identifying and seeking out the remaining families of our citizens is a good choice. For their safety or the safety of their families. Assuming they are still alive at all. A oppressive dictatorship with a statistically high chance of retaliation against the families of escapees... surely you can see how badly this can go. You’re just creating deadly hostage situations by identifying them. I just can’t say this is a good idea no matter how sad a painful it must be for them. The danger to the families in North Korea is so high.
    Like (38)
    Follow
    Share
    Family reunification could be the 1st step towards other interactions! Thank you Jamie Raskin for voting, “Yea”. @Becca: I don’t see where @LaRubia has suggested reunification. All that has been suggested is that family reunification is one of many steps that could occur between neighboring countries that should have travel & trade interactions like the YS & Canada but no one has ever suggested these two neighboring countries be unified.
    Like (29)
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    Lets try diplomacy instead of threats of military intervention.
    Like (18)
    Follow
    Share
    No,the price would be too high and North Korea does not keep promises.
    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
    Although North and South Korea have held 20 family reunification events to reunite South Koreans with North Korean family members, these events haven’t had official channels to include Korean-Americans. Consequently, Korean Americans with family in North Korea haven’t been able to see loved ones in that country for decades. Creating an official channel to support family reunification efforts would bolster U.S. government efforts to reunify Korean-Americans with loved ones in North Korea.
    Like (9)
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    I would support efforts to reunite these Americans with their families in North Korea. We should all be free to communicate with our families no matter where they are, and if there's a way to breach the North Korean isolation I think this would be a good start.
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    People should be allowed to see their own family. This could be the first steps to reuniting Korea or at least protecting the North Korean people.
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    If it were any other administration I would be excited about this. But with Drumpf who is so stupid & selfish I cannot send this being effective
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    If this is done without the involvement of either Donald Trump or Kim Jung Un it might actually stand a chance of working. Family reunification is not something the Trumpublican Administration is familiar with. This bill, however, can be implemented despite that. These families deserve and need the opportunity for reunification,
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    As a pathway to peace, Give it a go.
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    I wouldn't trust NK to not cause an international incident by saying we were sending spies, or taking an American for some other reason.
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    I agree with Leslie, this could be the beginning of other interactions between North & South Korea. If we can help facilitate this, we should.
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    I should think it would be safer for all if the State Department worked on reunification of those families to the US or South Korea. Returning to North Korea will only mean death to those who left. Just pretend for once we care about the lives and safety of those who risked everything to get here. Diplomacy is always best.
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    North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has met with the South Korean President and U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss denuclearization. The talks have gone nowhere. I say keep channels open to reunite loved ones they haven't seen each other in decades while at the same time diplomatically working on the hard issues outlined below. Here are five major hurdles listed below POLITICAL: Given that Kim’s priority is safeguarding his dynastic regime, it’s unlikely North Korea will agree to national reunification on terms that herald its own demise. And as freewheeling, democratic South Korea won’t relish wallowing under Stalinist totalitarianism, mending the political divide remains a huge sticking point. One option maybe some form of “one country, two systems” arrangement, similar to how China and Hong Kong have two uniquely different political systems under the umbrella of the same nation. However, Kim knows that relaxing internal controls — such as exchanges of people, information, and capital — enfeebles his own position as his 25 million impoverished subjects will no doubt begin agitating for economic parity with their sophisticated 50 million brethren across the DMZ. (The fall of the Berlin Wall is an example of just how this can manifest.) ECONOMIC: Even backburnering the considerable political pitfalls, economic issues are no easy fix. Largely agrarian North Korea has a GDP less than 1% of the South, which is the world’s 11th biggest economy, boasting some of the top tech and engineering firms. As such, merging the two economies would wreak hardships many times worse than when East and West German united in 1990. SOCIAL: South Korea is one of the fastest-paced, kitschiest and most competitive environments in the world. South Koreans work the second longest hours of all developed nations, with even school kids studying for 16 hours a day in a bid to gain access to one of three top universities. It has the highest rates of cosmetic surgery and teen suicide in the world. The contrast between this dog-eat-dog, helter-skelter environment and collectivized North Korea could not be starker. While all South Korean men spend two years of military service, the norm for North Koreans is ten, with schooling under the regime little more than mind-numbing indoctrination. Little wonder North Korean defectors frequently struggle to assimilate, suffering depression, failing to find work, and sometimes even return back to the North. A colossal affirmative action program would be needed to give North Koreans the skills and opportunities required to compete with their Southern peers. But this risks stoking resentment and social unrest. There’s also a good chance that some North Koreans, especially military personnel with easy access to small arms, may resort to petty larceny to get ahead. SECURITY: North Korea is believed to have a standing army of 1.1 million troops along with 7.7 million reserves. According to a South Korean Ministry of National Defense report, Pyongyang boasts more than 1,300 aircraft, some 300 helicopters, 250 amphibious vessels, 430 combatant vessels, 4,300 tanks, 2,500 armored vehicles, 70 submarines, and 5,500 multiple-rocket launchers. And lest we forget the up to 60 nuclear bombs, a bevy of short and intercontinental-range missiles, and stockpiles of 2,500 – 5,000 tons of chemical weapons the regime wields. GEOPOLITICAL: East Asia’s security architecture is delicately balanced, with South Korea and Japan the key U.S. allies, and North Korea backed by China and Russia (even if that support is fitful and waning). The North Korean threat is a large reason why the U.S. maintains some 40,000 troops in Japan and 28,500 in South Korea. Much of Chinese support for North Korea stems from its aversion to a united, U.S.-allied Korean peninsular possibly putting American troops on its border. REUNIFICATION: A formal peace treaty between North and South — would undermine Washington’s argument for its continued military presence. “There would be voices raised with the question: why are the U.S. troops still here if we have a peace regime in North Korea?” says Christopher Green, a senior researcher on the Korean Peninsular for the International Crisis Group. “So it would certainly be politically very destabilizing for South Korea.” Already, an increasingly assertive China under President Xi Jinping has taken aim at South Korea hosting the U.S. THAAD anti-missile battery. One might expect these complaints to amplify were the North Korean threat neutralized, boosting China’s regional clout at the expense of the U.S. After voicing a litany of obstacles and concerns it boils down to taking these huge challenges on one at a time and a matter of mutual trust. It seems to me this plan is futile as long as there is a vicious and dangerously aggressive dictator in the north that will not agree to any measures that might possibly diminish his ever wielding and controlling power.
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    Have to agree with Burrkitty on this one......I just do not trust the situation......sounds like a "set up" to me.
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    Families should never be separated.
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    If chain migration is good enough for our First Lady, it should be good for all Americans.
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    You libtards are all over the place on this one. So... whichever one is least favorable to most libtards, I choose that one!
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    First let’s re-unite the refugee families on our Southern border who trump purposely and with cold calculation, ripped apart...
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