U.S. President Joe Biden lauded the U.S. Senate Friday for overwhelmingly passing new legislation aimed at bolstering efforts to combat rising anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would establish a new Justice Department position to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes and provide support for local law enforcement agencies to respond to anti-Asian hate violence. It also includes an amendment that would improve hate crime data collection and establish hate crime telephone hotlines.
The amendment was initially introduced as the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, named after two high-profile victims of hate crimes in recent years, Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer.
"This critical legislation will bring our nation one step closer to achieving justice and equality for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities," Biden said in a White House statement in which he also praised the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus for its efforts.
"And, I was happy to see the Senate add the bipartisan Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act as an amendment, which will further our national efforts to stand strongly against acts of hate and violence," the president said.
The vote was 94-1. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was the only senator to vote against the bill. Two Democratic senators and three Republicans did not vote.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass with wide bipartisan support. President Joe Biden has expressed enthusiasm for the legislation and is expected to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.
Democratic Senator Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, the bill’s sponsor and one of two Asian Americans in the Senate, praised the bipartisan vote, saying it sends “a powerful message of solidarity to our AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community.”
"Now, I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so President Biden can sign it into law," Hirono wrote on Twitter.
The legislation comes amid a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination, fueled by what civil rights advocates describe as the baseless scapegoating of Asians for the virus that originated in China.
"For more than a year, far too many Asian Americans have woken up each morning increasingly fearful for their safety and the safety of their loved ones,” Biden said. “They have been scapegoated, harassed, and assaulted; some have even been killed."
"Too often throughout our history, acts of hate and violence directed at Asian Americans have been met with silence,” Biden added. “Our nation must stand together to speak out against hate and declare unequivocally: These acts are wrong. They are un-American. And they must stop."
Anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 150% in major American cities last year, according to police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. Meanwhile, Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy coalition created to track anti-Asian hate during the pandemic, says it has received more than 3,800 reports of anti-Asian incidents.
Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate, said the bill "sends a strong message that hate against AAPIs is a serious issue and clearly better data is needed."
"Given that a majority of incidents we receive are not hate crimes, we are calling for more investments in community-based organizations that are best equipped to meet the needs of victims and survivors of violence and intervention and prevention-based efforts in local communities," Choi wrote in an email to VOA. "We can't legislate our way out of this problem."
Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, said the legislation will help strengthen efforts to combat hate crimes by ensuring better data collection.
"Communities across the country have been experiencing a surge in hate crimes in recent years — including an increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes in the wake of bigotry surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, yet official hate crime data remains significantly underreported," Berry said in a statement. "This legislation will help provide an accurate picture of what communities across the country are experiencing."
The Biden administration has prioritized fighting anti-Asian hate. In January, Biden issued an executive action condemning anti-Asian violence and directing the Justice Department to help combat hate crimes directed at the Asian American community. Last week, the White House announced the appointment of Erika L. Moritsugu as liaison to the Asian American community.