WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced steps Tuesday to protect Asian Americans from discrimination and violent attacks, including establishing a Justice Department initiative to address a rising number of hate crimes since the pandemic originated in China.
The announcement comes two weeks after shootings at Atlanta-area spas killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, and as Biden has faced pressure from Asian American members of Congress to take stronger action.
“There is no doubt that our community is still at risk,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. “I applaud President Biden for recognizing our community’s pain and taking concrete actions to protect AAPI individuals” — Asian American and Pacific Islander — “from violence and root out anti-Asian bias while also supporting the victims of hate crimes.”
Under Biden’s initiative, the Justice Department will track reports of anti-Asian hate crimes and expand its outreach to community organizations. Also, the FBI is planning to hold training sessions for state and local law enforcement offices, and other federal agencies are being directed to additional steps.
Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered an expedited review to determine how the Justice Department could better prioritize investigations and prosecutions of people responsible for alleged hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“We must recommit ourselves to this urgent task,” he wrote in a memo on “hate-based violence and incidents.”
The Department of Health and Human Services will spend $49.5 million on programs to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. And the National Science Foundation will spend $33 million to study bias and xenophobia.
Biden also plans to revive the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which was founded by President Bill Clinton but has languished more recently. The initiative would be directed to “coordinate across federal agencies to combat anti-Asian bias and violence.”
“Our government is not powerless in the face of historic bigotry and entrenched inequality, and we commend President Biden for his leadership to ensure that the safety and well-being of the AAPI community is prioritized,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.