April 26, 2021
On Thursday , April 22, the Senate overwhelmingly voted (94-1) to approve legislation aimed at strengthening federal efforts to address hate crimes directed at Asian-Americans, amid a sharp increase in discrimination and violence against Asian communities in the United States.
The bipartisan vote was the first legislative action either chamber of Congress has taken to bolster law enforcement’s response to attacks on people of Asian descent, which have intensified during the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) was the lone opponent of the legislation, arguing that it mandated an overly expansive collection of data around hate crimes that could slide into government overreach.
“By passing this bill, the Senate makes it very clear that hate and discrimination against any group has no place in America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York. “By passing this bill, we say to the Asian-American community that their government is paying attention to them, has heard their concerns and will respond to protect them.”
The measure, sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would establish a position at the Justice Department to expedite the agency’s review of hate crimes and expand the channels to report them. It also would encourage the creation of state-run hate crime hotlines; provide grant money to law enforcement agencies that train their officers to identify hate crimes; and introduce a series of public education campaigns around bias against people of Asian descent.
The legislation will next go to the House, where lawmakers passed a resolution last year condemning anti-Asian discrimination related to the pandemic. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) pledged on Thursday shortly after the bill’s passage to put it to a vote on the House floor next month, calling it a catalyst for “robust, impactful action,” the Times said.
“I cannot tell you how important this bill is” to the Asian-American community, “who have often have felt very invisible in our country; always seen as foreign, always seen as the other” said Hirono, the first Asian-American woman elected to the chamber and one of only two currently serving there. “We stand with you and will continue to stand with you to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening our country.”
Republicans initially had offered a lukewarm response to the bill. But they rallied around an amended version after Hirono worked behind the scenes with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to secure enough Republican support to win 60 votes. That included adding a section explicitly documenting and denouncing attacks against Asian-Americans, as well as the provision establishing the hate crime hotlines, proposed by Senators Richard Blumenthal, (D-Connecticut) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).
Collins took to the Senate floor on Thursday to urge her colleagues to support the legislation, calling on them to join her in sending “an unmistakably strong signal that crimes targeting Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in our country will not be tolerated.”
In the lead-up to the bill, The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
Research contact: @nytimes