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Civil Rights Commission agrees to Senate Democrats' call for action against anti-Asian racism

“My colleagues and I will keep pushing to ensure the federal government is using all tools available to keep families safe,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told NBC Asian America.
Asian-Americans Condemn Racism
Members of the Asian American Commission hold a press conference on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to condemn racism toward the Asian American community because of the coronavirus on March 12, 2020, in Boston.John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has agreed to demands from a group of Senate Democrats who called on the agency to take “robust” action against increased acts of racism toward Asians.

In a document first sent to NBC Asian America, the commission told lawmakers that it had voted unanimously to address anti-Asian racism and xenophobia amid the pandemic and issue guidance to federal agencies on how to prevent it. Prior to the vote, there had been no such coordinated effort across the federal government on combating the discrimination and attacks.

The document points out the need for the federal government to be aware of and address the specific challenges the community is facing.

"The Commission has identified widespread concerns about discrimination impacting Asian Americans in relation to education, employment, hate crimes, health, housing, and immigration enforcement. Efforts to address these concerns must always take into account the critical requirement to provide for language access for limited English proficient populations," the document says.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, who spearheaded the original letter demanding action from the commission alongside Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said in a statement that she was “glad” to see movement from the commission, and that she will press the government to enforce the measures.

“My colleagues and I will keep pushing to ensure the federal government is using all tools available to keep families safe,” Warren noted.

Hirono agreed that the commission’s response was a “good first step” in mitigating anti-Asian racism.

“Federal agencies should heed the USCCR’s guidance to use all the tools at their disposal to stem the tide of discrimination against Asian Americans that President Trump and his administration have been stoking,” Hirono said.

The commission, which voted on the measure last Friday, ordered federal civil rights offices to secure rights within their jurisdictions, using enforcement when necessary. It demanded federal officials ensure they communicate in a way that demonstrates protection of all communities regardless of race or national origin. The document also stipulated that federal agencies “improve civil rights performance” by disaggregating data and improving data collection, prioritizing civil rights in highest level agency strategic planning, and increasing necessary staffing.

The commission noted federal officials should make known the resources available to communities that are being targeted and remember the obligation these agencies have to provide access to those with limited English proficiency, among other key recommendations.

“In this instance, this type of engagement might include working with Asian American organizations or organizations that provide assistance to Asian residents in our country to provide leadership and assurance that anti-Asian harassment, slurs, bullying, aggression, and violence are not to be tolerated and provide a direct line of communication for organizations to report instances of the same,” the document read.

While federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took swift action after the 9/11 attacks and the SARS outbreak to curb bias incidents and hate crimes, no such efforts had been taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News reported.

The online forum Stop AAPI Hate received more than 1,500 reports of coronavirus discrimination from Asian Americans across the country in the first month since it launched in March. When looking at New York City alone, there have been 248 reports of harassment and discrimination related to the pandemic since February, according to the New York City Commission on Human Rights. More than 40 percent of the incidents are anti-Asian.

Hirono recently also spearheaded an initiative to demand similar actions from specifically the Justice Department and the CDC.

Duckworth noted she felt positively about the commission's efforts.

“The enemy in the fight against COVID-19 isn’t the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all,” she said.