News & Resources

On World Refugee Day, Calls for Biden Administration to Accelerate Family Reunifications

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                     

June 20, 2023


IRAP | Spencer Tilger,
CWS | Christopher Plummer,
RC | Nili Yossinger,
WAAA | Andrés Bautista,


Listen to recording of World Refugee Day press call: HERE

(New York, NY) – On a press call held today to commemorate World Refugee Day, Congressman Ted Lieu joined advocates, experts, and affected individuals to highlight the tens of thousands of separated refugee families waiting to reunite in safety and called on the Biden administration to make family reunification pathways more efficient, more equitable, and more transparent. 

In addition to the press call, organizations involved with the “How Many More Years?” campaign today unveiled a new video featuring several delegates from Refugee Congress highlighting the importance of refugee family reunification (viewable here) and released a new sign-on letter signed by more than 100 organizations calling on the Biden Administration to accelerate family reunification efforts (available here).

On the press call, speakers included Nejra Sumic, National Field Manager for the National Partnership for New Americans, who served as call moderator and said: 

“Today is World Refugee Day, a day to honor the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees. It is also a day to call attention to the ways the government can do better to bring people to safety. As a former refugee, I know firsthand the impact of having to leave your home, of being displaced and separated from your family. I come from the beautiful country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, my country was ravaged by a brutal civil in the 90s where my family and I survived a genocide. During the war, I became separated from my family. We did not know my father’s whereabouts. After more than a year, we learned my father was held in a concentration camp and it took international non profit agencies, faith organizations, media outlets, and international governments to step in for my father to be released and for my parents and I to be reunified. Once we resettled to the United States, we attempted to apply for the family reunification program to be reunified with extended relatives, including my grandparents, but the process was too complex and difficult and our papers were denied for no reason. And that is why we are gathered today. Together we say: how many more years? How many more years will refugee families have to wait to be together again?”

Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), said:

“America has long been a beacon of hope for people around the world fleeing violence, famine and oppression. At a time when the number of refugees and displaced persons is on the rise globally, the United States must stand strong in its commitment to provide safety and security to those in need. I’m proud to lead this resolution with Chairman Menendez honoring the millions of courageous and resilient people who’ve fled their homes in search of a life free from violence and persecution. Whether they’re from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan or elsewhere, refugees and their families deserve a safe place to call home. Today and every day we reaffirm our commitment to support the countless families across the world who’ve risked so much, guided by the hope for freedom.”

Lacy Broemel, Policy Analyst for the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), said:

“We are calling on the United States government to make the family reunification program more efficient, accountable, and equitable. The Biden administration must put additional resources toward addressing long standing family reunification backlogs and to streamline the current reunification pathways like Follow-to-Join. The government should put measures in place to improve communication with refugee families who are waiting with little to no information. Finally, the Biden administration must root out inequities that subject Black and Muslim families to more scrutiny and higher standards. All of these reforms can be done. We are asking today that the administration prioritize these reforms so that families can be together.”

Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Service (CWS) said:

“Concerning many family reunification petitions that CWS supports, it is not uncommon for refugees to be waiting for more than ten years for the process to be completed. Ten years in which parents cannot see their children. In which they cannot be there for the first day of school. Ten years of daily phone calls between spouses. Ten years of missed milestones. Ten years of prayers unanswered. Family unity is and must remain a core value of our immigration system. There are concrete ways the Biden administration and Congress can do right by refugee families, including by investing resources and political will in addressing the family reunification backlog, communicating clearly with anchor relatives about the status of their petitions, and reducing lengthy delays and inefficiencies in DNA testing and paper review.”

The call also featured several directly affected individuals, including:

Mohamed Jamil Shahin, a Syrian refugee in Arizona and community advocate, said:

“My mother was one of the people who was blocked from traveling by the Muslim ban. When she was diagnosed with cancer, it was one of my biggest wishes to see her again, but I wasn’t able to before she passed away. We were apart for ten years, and it is very painful that we never had that time together again. No family should have to be apart, which is why I am here to ask the United States government to do everything possible to make family reunification as easy as possible for refugees. While it can be very lonely to live in a new country, thankfully I have my community. I now run my own organization in the United States called the Syrian Community Service Center. I also speak up and take action to help other people, which is why I joined this call today. I am thankful to everyone who has welcomed me to this country, and I hope the rest of my family will be able to join me here one day.”

Rabi Mohamed, a Somali refugee in Minnesota and an IRAP client, said in a pre-recorded message:

“I have only been able to visit my family once since I came to the United States. Being back together felt like the first time I had experienced real happiness since I left, and I have not felt it since. The day I had to leave them again, I felt a dread and sadness that I still carry with me. It hurts to know my family still lives in the refugee camp I escaped, and I hope President Biden and the United States government take action to fix this process for families like mine.”

Additional Background and Resources

President Biden has said, “As Americans, protecting and welcoming refugees is part of who we are” and has stated that “reunifying families is in the national interest.” Yet slow processing and bureaucratic red tape continue to keep too many families separated. These delays disproportionately impact Black and Muslim families. 

  • Read a new sign-on letter to the Biden Administration signed by 101 organizations HERE
  • Watch the new family reunification video featuring Refugee Congress delegates HERE
  • Read a policy backgrounder about refugee family reunification HERE
  • Learn more about the “How Many More Years?” campaign for refugee family reunification
  • Read a Father’s Day op-ed in The Journal Gazette by a Burmese refugee who hasn’t seen her father in ten years
  • Read an op-ed in The Messenger by Basma Alawee about her thirteen year journey to reuniting with her parents

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) develops and enforces a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons. Mobilizing direct legal aid, litigation, and systemic advocacy, IRAP serves the world’s most persecuted individuals and empowers the next generation of human rights leaders.