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President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law anti-hate crime legislation in response to the surge of attacks on Asian Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Every time we’re silent, every time we let hate flourish, we make a lie of who we are as a nation,” Biden said before signing the bill two days after Congress finished passing it. “We cannot let the very foundation of this country continue to be eaten away like it has been in other moments in our history and happening again.”
The newly enacted law would establish a position within the Justice Department centered on anti-Asian hate crimes and allocate resources to enhance state and local reporting.
The legislation passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers, a relatively rare occurrence in recent years, and was a product of bipartisan deal-making that has eluded other highly charged issues.
In his remarks at the White House, Biden repeatedly underscored the bipartisan nature of the legislation as an achievement in a Congress that has often been polarized into paralysis. Biden also thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — whom he obliquely referred to as “the leader from the state of Kentucky” — and Republicans for not filibustering the measure as some Democrats had initially feared.
Negotiators struck a deal to allow votes on a handful of amendments to the bill and made several tweaks to the legislative language, ultimately freeing up the legislation to sail through Congress.
Republicans earlier in the process expressed concern that the legislation was duplicative of other hate crimes statutes and would be designed instead to use as a political cudgel against the GOP. Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans enraged Democrats and many Asian American advocates by derisively referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” repeatedly and using other inflammatory terms.
Hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans more than doubled in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period last year, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
However, advocates say those figures vastly undercount the actual number of hate crimes and bias incidents, something the law is intended to address.
“All of this hate hides in plain sight,” Biden said. “Too often, it is met with silence. Silence by the media, silence by our politics and silence by our history.”
During his speech, Biden referenced several high-profile recent attacks, including this year’s mass shooting in the Atlanta area that left six Asian American women dead.
The law has been met with some criticism from advocates who say it does not go far enough in addressing the root of the issue, as well as some liberals who dislike its emphasis on law enforcement amid a broader reckoning on policing practices in the U.S.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke before Biden and touched upon her nuanced personal background and her status as the first Asian American to hold the position.
“In my life, my lived experience, I have seen how hate can pervade our communities,” Harris said. “I have seen how hate can impede our progress, and I have seen how people uniting against hate can strengthen our country.”