The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday to address the increase in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, clearing the legislation for President Biden to sign.
The COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act passed by a 364-62 vote; all 62 votes against the bill were from Republicans. The Senate approved the legislation last month.
A rise in COVID-19 cases, the first instances of which were reported in China, has been linked to an increase in attacks on Asian Americans. Democrats have pointed to former President Donald Trump’s frequent use of racist phrases such as “kung flu” to describe the coronavirus as a link to the increase in anti-Asian sentiment.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, instructs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19.
The bill also would expand efforts to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels, including providing online reporting resources that are available in multiple languages.
Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote, Meng recalled how over the past year, the Asian American community has faced an “additional pandemic: the virus of hate and bigotry.”
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a necessary step to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination. We cannot mend what we do not measure,” she said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the bill as “important legislation to address a grave and growing crisis.”
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Bill will strengthen our defenses against any anti-AAPI violence, speeding our response to hate crime, supporting state and local governments as they improve reporting, and ensuring that they have crimes information and it’s more accessible to the Asian American communities,” she said on the floor.
The legislation passed the Senate last month with a rare bipartisan vote of 94-1. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri voted against the measure.
Ahead of the bill’s final passage Tuesday, Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, applauded the Senate for its “almost unheard of showing of bipartisan support.”
“It shows just how much the near-daily tragedies of anti-Asian violence have shocked our nation into action,” Chu said at a press conference with Democrats involved with the legislation.
Meng reassured the Asian American and Pacific Islander community that after a year of “pain and struggle,” Congress is taking action.
“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19, and as a result, Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on and even set on fire and killed,” she said at the morning news conference. “The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian Americans are tired of living in fear and being frightened about their kids or elderly parents going outside.”
The community experienced a dramatic spike in the number of hate crimes in the past year. The organization Stop AAPI Hate documented 6,603 hate incidents from March 2020 to March 2021, and leaders said the true number is much higher as many attacks go unreported. Community-led programs in major cities have grown to help Asian American and Pacific Islander residents commute safely.
Chu noted the heavy toll that the rise in hate crimes has had on the mental health of the community.
“What is it like to open up the newspaper every day and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked and even killed?” she asked. “You start to think, well, will I be next?”
In a statement, Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, said the “legislation represents a first step in the right direction as we work to restore trust and end Asian hate crimes.”
Biden has previously called on Congress to pass the legislation and is expected to sign it swiftly into law.