Enacting a Law That Would Address Asian American Hate Crimes Is Elusive

"California-06304 - More of Chinatown" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Dennis Jarvis

While both Democratic and Republican lawmakers condemn the wrongdoing against Asian Americans, enacting a law that would address this is again proving elusive.

In the dawn of hate crimes against Asian Americans, Senate Democrats vowed to pass a quick action to address the hate crimes against Asian Americans. However, their legislative effort seems to be headed towards the same political paralysis that’s plagued Congress after past national tragedies. 

The nation reels from the Atlanta shooting that claimed eight people’s lives, including six women, all of Asian descent.

Meanwhile, Biden has thrown his weight behind two bills that aimed at improving reporting of hate crimes. 

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated that one of the bills would be placed at a top priority next month. However, so far, not a single lawmaker has endorsed it. 

Compared to immigration or voting rights, Asian hate crime is an issue that only has few political pitfalls, and the violence against Asian Americans that was heightened during the Coronavirus pandemic has raised its national profile.

Yet Congress is still facing a dynamic that recalls its long-running incapacity to respond to escalating gun violence: While lawmakers in both Democratic and Republican parties are quick to condemn wrongdoing after mass shootings and other tragic events, passing a law that addresses these events is once again proving elusive.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) said, “It all fits in that same swirl of the things that the American people want us to do. But Congress continues to fail because of the filibuster.”

Schumer plans to force a vote on would make a small-scale but potentially meaningful change by creating a Justice Department point person to focus on the problem.

However, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, “We’ve already got a hate crimes bill. Just go after people who hurt folks because of their race. Pound them. We’ve already got the law.”

When the Senate returns from its two-week recess, it is set to vote on the Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono’s proposal to have a DOJ official to help expedite the review of COVID-related hate crimes. This bill is also intended to beef up state and local guidance on hate crime reporting while at the same time asking federal agencies to provide a general framework for avoiding racially discriminatory language when describing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Also, in the House, Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif), one of two Asian-American Republicans currently sitting in Congress, used a Friday op-ed to outline plans for a nonbinding bipartisan resolution reprobating hate crimes. Kim addressed that she talked with her colleagues about hate crimes recording but that “we cannot legislate hate out of people’s hearts and minds.” The House passed a similar nonbinding measure condemning anti-Asian sentiment last year. 

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif), the chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, stated that she is positive in Congress’s ability to enact hate crimes legislation this year with two Republicans as lead sponsors. The Chu also pointed to one key difference between hate crime and gun law, the presence of groups like the NRA impending the progress on the gun law. However, not with hate crimes. 

Chu said, “I don’t think we have that kind of lobby” against fighting hate crime. She is part of a group of House lawmakers flying to Atlanta on Sunday to visit each shooting site and meet with local Asian American leaders.