Hailing it as a rare contemporary example of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation intended to fight anti-Asian hate crimes, which have escalated in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hate and racism are "the ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation," the president said before signing the bill in the White House East Room.
The law establishes 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 such violence. It also is intended to improve hate crime data collection and establish telephone hotlines and online reporting of such acts.
"This new law will help speed our response to hate crimes and provide resources to law enforcement to improve hate crime reporting," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The law will assist law enforcement in targeting its efforts, which will help to prevent these devastating crimes and to respond efficiently and effectively to crimes, when they occur."
Before the president spoke, Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American to hold that office, told the audience the law "brings us one step closer to stopping hate not only for Asian Americans but for all Americans."
Only one U.S. senator voted against the bill, which also gained wide support from Democrats and Republicans in the House.
"We simply haven't seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in Washington," Biden said Thursday.
Anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 150% in major American cities in 2020, according to police data.
The new law is just one step toward greater tolerance, Biden noted in his remarks, saying that during the past year, too many Asian Americans were "genuinely fearing for their safety."
The country, according to the president, still needs to change.
"But of all the good that the law can do, we have to change our hearts. We have to change the hearts of American people," the president said. "Hate can be given no safe harbor in America."
Raising his voice in anger in front of the 68 invited attendees in the East Room, Biden said, "Every time we're silent, every time we let hate flourish, you make a lie of who we are as a nation."
Biden, shortly after becoming president in January, directed the Justice Department to help combat hate crimes targeting the Asian American community. Following criticism that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were under-represented in his administration, Biden also appointed Erika Moritsugu as the White House liaison to those communities.
"How we treat hate within our own borders impacts our relationships abroad," said Alexander Feldman, head of the US-ASEAN Business Council. "As an organization committed to fostering understanding, goodwill and meaningful relations between the United States and Southeast Asia, we applaud President Biden for taking this necessary step to stand up for Asian Americans at home and rebuild trust with our friends and partners across Asia."