WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday legislation addressing anti-Asian hate crimes, which have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, after the measure passed Congress with bipartisan support.
Biden said that the legislation was an example of how common values could unite the country and that his administration would continue to work to crack down on hate crimes.
"My message to all of those who are hurting is we see you. The Congress said we see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias," Biden said.
The House passed the measure Tuesday in a 364-62 vote after the Senate gave its overwhelming support, 94-1, last month. Vice President Kamala Harris joined Biden, along with nearly two dozen members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Also in the crowd were relatives of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man intentionally drove his car into a crowd protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese American shot in front of his home in 2016.
The legislation directs the Justice Department to expedite the review of Covid-19-related hate crimes that were reported to law enforcement agencies, help them establish ways to report such incidents online and perform public outreach.
The Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services are also required to issue guidance that seeks to raise awareness about the spate of anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year. The bill also creates grants for states to establish reporting hotlines.
Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 percent across major cities last year, according to an analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, in March.
Eight people were killed, six of whom were women of Asian descent, in a series of shootings at spas in the Atlanta area in March, which put a renewed focus on the need to address violence against Asian Americans. In a speech in Atlanta after the shootings, Biden said: "Silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit."
Harris said: "Here's the truth — racism exists in America, xenophobia exists in America, anti-semitism, Islamophobia homophobia, transphobia, it all exists. So the work to address injustice, wherever it exists, remains the work ahead."
Some Asian American and LGBTQ groups have raised concerns about the bill, cautioning that it does little to address the causes of anti-Asian bias and relies too heavily on law enforcement and crime statistics to prevent violence.