New Delhi: President Joe Biden has signed into law a bill aimed at combating a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the ongoing health crisis of the novel coronavirus.
“Hate can be given no safe harbour in America,” Biden said, praising members of Congress for working to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female, first Asian American, to serve in the second-highest US office, welcomed the move.
“Here’s the truth. Racism exists in America. Xenophobia exists in America. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia — it all exists,” she said.
“And so the work to address injustice, wherever it exists, remains the work ahead,” said Harris, who attended the signing event with Biden.
She called for further efforts going forward.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 364 to 62 on Tuesday following a Senate approval in April.
The move was led by Sen. Mazie Hirono and House of Representatives member Grace Meng, both Asian American women.
“We heard how too many Asian Americans have been waking up each morning this past year genuinely — genuinely — fearing for their safety just opening the door and walking down the street, and safety for their loved ones. The moms and dads who, when they let their kids out the door to go to school, were worried.
Attacked, blamed, scapegoated, harassed during this pandemic. Living in fear for their lives, as I said, just walking down street,” said Biden at the signing of the Act.
The Act, among other things, will require the Justice Department to expedite the review of crimes targeting people of Asian or Pacific Island descent.
A Justice Department officer will be designated to oversee the review.
The department will also issue guidance for local law enforcement agencies on how to establish online reporting of hate crimes and incidents, as well as guidance aimed at raising awareness about such acts.
Such efforts are expected to “make a difference” in addressing the critical problem that hate crimes are being underreported, partly due to the lack of resources and training for local law enforcement to accurately identify and report the crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Biden said.
The law will also authorize grants to help states create hate crime hotlines, accessible even for people with limited English proficiency, and assist efforts to provide training for hate crime investigation.
A shooting in the Atlanta area that killed six women of Asian descent this past March sparked demonstrations across the country against anti-Asian racism.
A centre tracking violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States has said it has received reports of more than 6,600 incidents during the year through March 2021, which coincides with the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Verbal harassment and shunning made up more than 80 per cent of the total incidents reported, while physical assault comprised the third-largest category of total cases at 12.6 percent, according to a recent report by Stop AAPI Hate.