North Korea sentenced two American journalists to 12 years in prison on Monday.
The North detained Laura Ling and Euna Lee in March. The two are accused of illegally crossing into North Korea and conducting what the government there has called "hostile acts."
Lisa Ling, the sister of Laura Ling, is leading the efforts to try to get the women released.
"She's really scared. I mean, she's terrified. My sister is a wife, with a medical condition. And Euna Lee is the mother of a 4-year-old girl, who has been without her mother for almost three months," Lisa Ling said.
Washington is demanding an immediate release of the women, who had been working for a television channel founded by Al Gore.
"I'm hoping that it's more symbolic than anything else, and that maybe they'll be released within a matter of months, that's what everyone is hoping," said Holly Gibson, a friend of Ling's.
Some analysts say North Korea is using the two journalists as leverage to open direct political talks with the United States.
The regime detonated an atomic bomb last month and has conducted several missile blasts over Japan.
The Obama administration says it is ready to impose tougher sanctions on the North and might start intercepting their ships and planes suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.
"If we do not take significant and effective action against the North Koreans now, we'll spark an arms race in Northeast Asia. I don't think anybody wants to see that," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
North Korea is considered one of the worst country's in Asia for press freedom. Human rights groups are investigating the possibility that the two American journalists were set up.