Biden signs anti-Asian hate crimes bill into law
President Biden on Thursday signed into law legislation that aims to combat the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans that has occurred since the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill, called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, is designed to improve hate crime tracking and reporting by assigning a Justice Department official to review and expedite hate crimes reports and bolstering support for state and local officials investigating hate crimes.
“My message to all of those of you who are hurting is we see you and the Congress has said, we see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias,” Biden said at a signing ceremony.
“We have to change the hearts of the American people. I mean this from the bottom of my heart, hate can be given no safe harbor in America. I mean it, no safe harbor. It can’t be dismissed, like ‘well that’s just what happens,’” he added.
Biden’s speech included an emotional plea that “every time we’re silent, every time we let hate flourish, you make a lie of who we are as a nation,” raising his voice at the podium.
The president highlighted that the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act cleared the Senate with a 94-1 vote and passed overwhelmingly in the House as well. Dozens of lawmakers attended the bill signing on Thursday, including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
In total, 68 guests attended, most of them maskless, in one of the first large, indoor gatherings of the Biden administration.
Also in attendance was the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed counter-protesting at the United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and the family of Khalid Jabara, who was killed in 2016 in a hate crime. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act includes a provision named for the two victims.
“Because of you, history will remember this day and this moment when our nation took action to combat hate,” Vice President Harris said at the bill signing, thanking the lawmakers who worked on the legislation in Congress.
She noted that there have been 6,600 cases of hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans since March 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This violence, it did not come from nowhere and none of it is new,” Harris said.
“But after the president signs this bill today, we will not be done. Here’s the truth. Racism exists in America, xenophobia exists in America, antisemitism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, transphobia, it all exists. And so the work to address injustice wherever it exists remains the work ahead,” she added.
The bill’s passage, which came during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, represented a rare bipartisan feat in a divided Washington.
The House passed the bill in a decisive bipartisan vote of 364-62 on Tuesday, with only Republicans voting against the measure. In April, only Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) voted to oppose the bill in the upper chamber.
The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate says it has received reports of over 6,600 anti-Asian hate incidents since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
According to a recent report relying on crime data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crimes in major U.S. cities increased 169 percent in the first quarter of 2021 over the same period in the previous year.
“This bill is very, very meaningful to AAPIs across the country,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a recent interview with The Hill. Chu, who also attended the signing Thursday, commended Biden and Harris for condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans and taking executive action to address the issue.
Comparing Biden’s actions to those of the Trump administration, she said, “This has been like night and day on the AAPI hate issue.”
Representatives from Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Arab American Institute, Sikh Coalition, and AAPI Victory Fund, among other groups, were also in the audience.
The bill does not name former President Trump, though Democrats have blamed his rhetoric on the coronavirus in part for the rise in anti-Asian violence. Trump called the coronavirus the “China virus” and “kung flu” when he was in office and repeatedly referred to the virus’s origins in China.
Biden, who called the legislation to be passed earlier this year, has forcefully condemned anti-Asian violence and taken a handful of executive actions to address discrimination and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
The White House also recently brought on Erika Moritsugu as a senior liaison in response to complaints from lawmakers regarding a lack of AAPI representation in Cabinet positions.
—Updated at 3:10 p.m.