World Refugee Day 2023: Prioritize Family Reunification for Refugee Families

June 20, 2023

President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520 

The Honorable Alejandro Mayork
Secretary of Homeland Security
301 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20520
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Dear President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, and Secretary Blinken,

Today on World Refugee Day we, the undersigned state, local, and national organizations, urge you to prioritize family reunification for refugee families. In your first weeks in office President Biden signed an Executive Order regarding the U.S. commitment to refugees in which you clearly stated: “reunifying families is in the national interest.”1 However, two years later, extremely slow processing and bureaucratic red tape continue to keep refugee families separated. Biased and inefficient vetting and screening processes have led to these delays disproportionately impacting Black and Muslim families. And families whose kinship ties are not formally recognized in their countries of origin or first asylum, such as LGBTQIA+ couples and parents, are also subject to unfair restrictions and delays.

Long delays, lack of transparency, and inequitable processing exist across all refugee family reunification programs, including the Follow-to-Join Refugee and Asylee Process, Priority 3 (P3) family reunification, the Iraqi and Syrian I-130 Priority 2 Direct Access Program, and the Central American Minors (CAM) Program. Delays have compounded in recent years with little transparency for families waiting in the process.    

These issues take a significant emotional and economic toll on families stuck in the process. Due to prolonged separation, families miss important life events and milestones together, including weddings, and birthdays. This is time that cannot be reclaimed–indeed, some refugee families lose family members before being able to be reunited with their loved ones. Further, research2 has shown that family-based immigration is critical to strengthening the United States economy and building strong communities. Family immigration spurs positive outcomes such as high rates of self-employment and high earnings growth, improved well-being, and better integration outcomes.

For Black and Muslim families, processing hurdles are even more onerous. Due to the continuation of policies growing out of the Muslim Ban, families from certain countries now face additional scrutiny and red tape, which delay their cases.3 Families like the Mohamed family from Somalia suffer from the ongoing delays and bureaucratic obstacles that are common in refugee family reunification programs and even more pronounced for families from Muslim-majority countries.4 Rabi Mohamed was resettled to Minnesota in 2015 and is still waiting to reunite with his wife and children in the United States seven years later. Rabi says that when he speaks to his children they ask him, “‘When are you coming? When are you going to take us with you?’ They ask me things that I am unable to provide for them or make happen — things that I’ve been waiting for years to happen.”

Sadly, these heart-wrenching stories are all too familiar. Jayarajah Antony Rajeevan Kulas, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee living in Texas, has been waiting to reunite with his wife and children in the United States for more than nine years. He says, “My only hope is for my family to join me. I worry constantly for their safety and it pains me to think about how many moments I have missed without them by my side.” Every day that passes is another day Rabi, Jayarajah, and many other refugee families are subject to worry and fear for their family’s safety overseas. 

On this World Refugee Day, we ask that your administration fulfill its stated commitment to family reunification by implementing the following recommendations. 

  • Invest resources to address long backlogs of pending family reunification cases and reduce the time that families are separated moving forward.
  • Improve transparency and communication so families know where they stand in the reunification process and are alerted about any additional actions they need to take.
  • Root out inequities in family reunification processes that subject Black and Muslim families to more scrutiny and higher standards.

Family reunification has long been a bedrock of the United States immigration system. By implementing these recommendations, you will help reunite many families with their loved ones. It’s past time to prioritize reforming these pathways so that families can be together. 


Afghan Refugee Relief 

Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC)

Afghans Empowered

African Communities Together (ACT)

African Diaspora of Las Vegas 

Al Otro Lado

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Americans for Immigrant Justice

Amnesty International USA

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) 

Berrien Immigration Solidarity Network 

Bethany Christian Services

Burma Refugee Families and Newcomers

Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Center for Victims of Torture

Church World Service

Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS)

Community Supported Film


Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants

Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services Inc

Dorcas International Institute of RI

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington DC

First Congregational Church of SanJose

First Congregational United Church of Christ



HIAS Pennsylvania

Human Rights Initiative

Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, Elon Law

Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project 

Immigration Equality

Immigration Hub

Indivisible Brooklyn

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti

Interfaith Welcome Coalition – San Antonio

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

International Rescue Committee

Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice 

Islamic Relief USA

Japanese American Citizens League

Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc.

Justice Action Center

Justice For Our Neighbors North Central Texas

Khmer Maine

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

Law Office of Patavee Vanadilok, P.C.

Lawyers for Good Government

Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA)

National Education Association

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Litigation Alliance

National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR)

National Partnership for New Americans

Neighbors Immigration Clinic

New International hope for Refugee & Immigrats

Nigerian Center 

OPAWL – Building AAPI Feminist Leadership

Oxfam America

Pilgrim United Church of Christ 

Refugee Advocacy Lab

Refugee Congress

Refugee Council USA

Refugees International 


Rohingya Women Development Network 

Save the Children 

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Tahirih Justice Center

Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB)

The 5ive Pillars Organization 

The Episcopal Church

The Lamia Afghan Foundation 

U.S. Campaign for Burma 

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


Unitarian Universalist Refugee & Immigrant Services & Education

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) 

United Church of Christ

Value our Families


We Are All America 

Welcoming America

Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration

Witness At The Border

Women for Afghan Women (WAW)

Women’s Refugee Commission

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights



2 and 



Featured Image: An Afghan refugee family now living near Seattle, WA, on August 12, 2022. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)