Your Members of Congress
If you are wondering where to begin, remember that you already have a congressional team representing you in Congress. Persons living in the United States have a member or delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, and state residents have two senators. If your loved one and family members are residents of different states and/or congressional districts, you may have an even larger team in Congress, since you can also reach out to the representatives and senators of your loved one and those representing any of your family members.
All members of Congress have local offices in their congressional districts and main offices in Washington, D.C. Congressional staffers are the first line of communication and will bring your issue to the representative or senator. Several family members of wrongful detainees recommend that families reach out to the main office in Washington, D.C., because the staffers there may be more knowledgeable about international issues. Contact your Family Engagement Team if you need assistance identifying your representatives, getting contact information for their offices, or want to discuss ways to engage your Congressional representatives.
U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Committees
In addition to the state delegations listed above, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate also have standing committees with permanent, or professional, staff (separate from the staff of the members of the committee). The following committees have historically been engaged in wrongful detention issues, and their members and staff can be helpful in the overall effort to secure the release of your loved one.
- House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) – The HFAC is responsible for oversight and legislation related to a number of different foreign policy issues, including foreign assistance, promotion of democracy, and international law enforcement issues.
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) – In addition to holding jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations, the SFRC considers, debates, and passes legislation related to foreign policy and international treaties.
The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have a range of other committees that may shape policy and legislation on issues impacting your loved one. Do not hesitate to contact your
Family Engagement Team if you have any questions about pending legislation or working with members of Congress. See more information in the Actions to Consider appendix.
Actions Your Members of Congress Can Take
There are a number of actions your members of Congress may take to advance efforts to secure your loved one’s release. Members of Congress can request briefings from the State Department and other government agencies and offices to ensure the executive and legislative branches of government are working towards the same objectives to secure your loved one’s release. Members of Congress can also host phone calls or meetings with you to discuss updates and options. Members of Congress may sponsor and/or support legislation or resolutions that can advance efforts to free your loved one or draw attention to their cause. Legislation changes laws and U.S. government procedures, whereas resolutions are public statements of Congress’ public approval or disapproval over something outside of their jurisdiction (such as the detention of a U.S. national overseas).
Members of Congress may use their influence to meet with and/or write letters to government officials on behalf of your loved one, which can include a foreign ambassador to the United States, the U.S. ambassador to the country of detention, the U.S. Secretary of State, the U.S. National Security Advisor, and the U.S. President.
SPEHA and HAU Communication with Congress
If your loved one has signed a Privacy Act waiver indicating their permission to share information with or seeking assistance from Congress, SPEHA and the HAU are available to brief your members of Congress and/or congressional committees about your loved one. Reach out to your members of Congress and ask that they request a briefing with your Family Engagement Team, which can ensure that both branches of government are working with the same set of facts and updates. If it is not possible to have your loved one sign a PAW while in detention, speak with your Family Engagement Team about information-sharing options.
You may want to consider choosing a family member or trusted friend to act as the point of contact for congressional communications. You may also consider working with someone who has experience with advocating with members of Congress. There is additional information on the Assistance Resources page, and you may reach out to your Family Engagement Team if you have further questions.