President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday meant to address a proliferation of assaults and other crimes against Asian Americans since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris thanked Democratic and Republican lawmakers for joining together to pass the legislation.
“This bill brings us one step closer to stopping hate, not just against Asian Americans, but for all Americans,” Harris said.
She said lawmakers still had work to do to combat discrimination and hate. “Racism exists in America,” she said. “Xenophobia exists in America. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, it all exists.”
The law passed by a vote of 94-1 in the Senate and 364-62 in the House. “We simply haven’t seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in America,” Biden said.
“My message to all those of you who are hurting is, we see you,” Biden said. “And the Congress has said, we see you. And we are committed to stopping the hatred and the bias.”
Over the last year, more than 6,600 anti-Asian hate incidents have been recorded nationwide, according to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate. New York had the largest increase in anti-Asian hate crimes relative to other major cities, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
The measure, led by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., will establish a position at the Justice Department to speed the agency’s review of hate crimes and expand the channels to report them, in an effort to improve data collection around attacks targeting Asian Americans. It will also encourage the creation of state-run hate crimes hotlines, provide grants to law enforcement agencies that train their officers to identify hate crimes and introduce a series of public education campaigns around bias against people of Asian descent.
The bill amounts to the first legislative action Congress has taken to bolster law enforcement’s response to attacks on people of Asian heritage during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts testified before a key House panel in March that attacks targeting Asian Americans — many of them women or older people — have increased nearly 150% in the past year, with Americans of Asian heritage reporting being spat on, shoved to the ground, beaten, and burned by chemicals.
Democratic Asian Americans in Congress earlier in the year had confronted the Biden administration about what they said was an unacceptable lack of representation at the highest levels of his administration, culminating in the administration appointing a senior official to focus on Asian American priorities. Hirono and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois had pledged to withhold their votes on some nominees until Biden engaged more actively on the issue.