Washington — President Biden on Thursday signed legislation that aims to combat the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris at his side, who is the first Asian American vice president, emphasized the bipartisan nature of the measure, and insisted that hate can have no more place in America.
"I mean this from the bottom of my heart: hate can be given no safe harbor in America," Mr. Biden said ahead of signing the legislation into law. "... Every time we're silent, every time we let hate flourish, we make a lie of who we are as a nation. I mean it literally. 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 measure, spearheaded by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York, was approved by the House on Tuesday by a vote of 364 to 62 after passing the Senate 94 to 1 last month. When Mr. Biden and Harris took the stage at the White House, the East Room erupted in applause.
"Let me start by saying to all of the leaders here, thank you. Thank you," Harris told the room. "To the members of our United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who helped pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, thank you. ... Because of you, history will remember this day and this moment, when our nation took action to combat hate."
Called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, the bill aims to expand the federal government's efforts to address the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, including by directing the Justice Department to speed up the review of hate-crime incidents and provide more guidance to state and local entities to make it easier to report hate crimes. The legislation also expands public education campaigns to boost awareness and outreach to hate-crime victims.
Mr. Biden noted the unusually high level of bipartisanship that led to the bill's passage.
"We simply haven't seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in Washington," the president said.
The president noted how many Asian-Americans have feared for their lives for just walking down the street, and how Asian-Americans have been hurt and even killed simply because of the color of their skin.
"All of this hate hides in plain site. It hides in plain site," he said.
The legislation from Hirono and Meng was a response to the drastic increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the last year that have sent fear rippling throughout the community. Shootings at spas in the Atlanta-area in March that left eight people, including six women of Asian descent dead, further heightened those fears.
The group Stop AAPI Hate reported 6,603 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 2020 and March 2021, with women reporting nearly 65% of the incidents.
Mr. Biden expressed support for the legislation as it worked its way through Congress and called on lawmakers in March to send the bill to his desk.