COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Makes Progress in Congress

Last April 14, nearly all senators voted in favor of proceeding with the deliberations on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, to address attacks on Asian-Americans. Even if authored and sponsored by Democratic lawmakers in both lower and upper houses, 92 senators from both parties cast overwhelming votes to proceed, with only six Republicans voting against the bill.

While most Senate Republicans have indicated reluctance in opposing the bill, as well as in exercising the filibuster, lest they be criticized as insensitive, 6 senators voted against proceeding with the bill. The six include Senators Tommy Tuberville of Alabama,Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Senator Mitch McConnell, who is himself married to an Asian American who was appointed secretary of transportation under the Trump administration, said that Republican Senators are hoping to at least debate the bill for possible amendments. Unlike his fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, McConnell said he believes discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem.

Actually, the alarming increase in racist sentiments against Asian Americans, had in fact heightened under the Trump administration. The ex-president himself took every opportunity to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic, while all the while uttering derogatory language and derisive nicknames that only served to fuel his supporters’ hatred of all Asians.

Key Provisions of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act aims to address attacks on individuals by people for no reason, other than perceiving that their victim’s race, gender or sexuality is linked to the spread of the coronavirus.

A person within the Justice Department will be assigned to review all reported hate crimes and to expedite the necessary actions; including providing support needed by local law enforcement in order to effectively respond to such incidents.

The Justice Department will also be tasked to stop the use of discriminatory language when describing the pandemic. Since this particular provision will apply to Trump, a GOP senator will likely debate against its inclusion in the final bill.

State and local law enforcement agencies will receive federal guidance on how to establish online systems for reporting hate crimes.

Jackalyn Feliks