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Asian American lawmakers call for a hearing on anti-Asian racism

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus plans to hold a hearing to discuss violent attacks during the pandemic.

US Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) speaking at a rally at the US Capitol in 2019.
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Asian American lawmakers on Friday laid out a policy response to anti-Asian racism, which has spiked during the pandemic: They want Congress to pass the No Hate Act, a bill that boosts local government funding for tracking hate incidents, and they want a meeting with the Department of Justice. Plus, they’d like to hold a hearing about recent attacks.

“What started as dirty looks and verbal assaults has escalated,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), in a press briefing. “We must put an end to this xenophobia.”

This policy push — which has also garnered support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as lawmakers in the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses — comes amid a recent wave of violence specifically targeting elderly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In the past month, an 84-year-old man died in San Francisco after being pushed to the ground; a 91-year-old man was forcefully shoved onto the sidewalk in Oakland; and a 52-year-old woman in New York City was injured after getting pushed as well.

The motivations of these attacks are not immediately clear, but they’ve taken place as anti-Asian harassment has surged in the last year — and as former President Donald Trump scapegoated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people for the spread of the coronavirus. There have been roughly 3,000 verbal and physical attacks against Asian Americans since last spring, according to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization tracking these reports.

The No Hate Act would establish regional hotlines for people to report hate crimes, provide more resources for local governments to investigate them, and focus on the rehabilitation of offenders through community service and other programs. This bill had previously passed the House as part of the Heroes Act, and is legislation that lawmakers hope to raise again this term. CAPAC would also like the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the legislation, and the group would specifically like to pursue a hearing on the recent instances of violence as well.

In the near term, many local organizations are focused on community-based efforts that help cover costs for victims’ families and increase foot traffic and activity in neighborhoods — like Oakland’s Chinatown — where multiple attacks have taken place. Lawmakers hope their statements will raise awareness of the issue, and translate to more structured funding to help document these incidents.

“The Asian American community is facing a crisis of hatred that we cannot tolerate,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said. “We will not tolerate anti-Asian bias, we will not tolerate anti-Asian bigotry, we will not tolerate these hate crimes. All of us stand with the Asian American community until we can put this scourge to an end.”

In addition to calling out Trump’s role in stoking anti-Asian sentiment, lawmakers at Friday’s conference emphasized that such discrimination is not new. As they explained at the briefing, it is rooted in deep-seated biases that date back to policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which framed AAPI people as “forever foreigners” in the US.

“There is a deeper level of xenophobia and bias that is harbored in our country that we need to dig in deeper on,” said Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ).

Lawmakers emphasized that it will take much more than a change in administration to reckon with decades of discrimination, including the incidents that are happening right now. They noted, however, that a recent executive action from the Biden administration, which condemned anti-Asian racism, was a start.

“We cannot completely blame the former president for this, but you cannot deny his words and actions gave people permission to be bigoted,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA).