WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday passed a Senate bill with a 364 to 62 vote to address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The legislation, which the Senate passed in a 94-1 vote last month, directs the Department of Justice to expedite the review of Covid-related hate crimes that were reported to law enforcement agencies and help them establish ways to report such incidents online and perform public outreach.
The bill, which Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, introduced in March alongside Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also directs the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practices guidance on how to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.
The bill's passage in the Democratic-controlled House paves the way for it to head to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the president was "pleased" the measure had passed and "looks forward to signing this important legislation into law at the White House later this week."
All 62 "no" votes were from Republican lawmakers. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said on the House floor ahead of the vote that he didn't support the measure because he didn't think it would be effective. "We can't legislate away hate," Roy said.
Ahead of the vote, House Democrats maintained the legislation will address and help prevent the spate of attacks against Asian Americans. Meng, who represents a district in Queens with a large Asian-American population, said her community has faced “despicable and sickening acts of hate and violence” over the last year and a half.
“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," Meng said at a press conference, flanked by her colleagues. "The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the event Tuesday that the measure will “strengthen our defenses to prevent reports and combat” violence against Asian Americans as well as build on actions taken by Biden.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who cosponsored the legislation, said hate crimes have been underreported for years, and the measure would lead to a better collection of data.
“How many hate crimes happen every year?” Beyer asked. “The truth is, we just have no idea. We know that many police departments don't report any data at all to the FBI.”
The Biden administration has been working with Congress to expand the law enforcement response to the increase in incidents. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes during a meeting with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus last week.
“We've seen how Asian American small businesses have been targeted recently in particular because of the Covid virus and what it’s done in terms of our economy," Harris said. "We have seen how Asian American women have been struggling with unemployment, many of whom have been front-line workers. We have seen [how] the Asian American people in our country have been targeted by vicious expressions of hate.”
“You know, there has been a lot of attention — national attention ... to the injustices that have targeted our AAPI community," Harris continued. "And this is a moment for all Americans to stand together. We stand together, unified, saying harm against anyone is harm against all of us. And we will stand together in support of all communities, to protect and honor who they are."
About 100 Asian American and LGBTQ groups, however, raised concerns about the legislation ahead of the vote. They argued that the legislation fails to provide resources to address the causes of anti-Asian bias and, in turn, ignores police violence against Black and brown communities.
“Hate crime classifications and statistics do not change the structural conditions that lead to violence against marginalized communities,” the groups said in a joint statement last week.