Over a dozen U.S. senators have urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take “concrete steps” to address the growing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Describing the situation as “alarming,” the senators reminded the department of the actions it’s Civil Rights Division had taken to safeguard vulnerable communities that faced similar predicaments in the past.
In their letter
to Asst. Atty. General Eric S. Dreiband, U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), they noted an “inadequate federal response”
to such racist and xenophobic attacks, which have skyrocketed to at least 1,500 reports, according to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council
The senators cited the stabbing
of an Asian American man and his two children at a Sam’s Club in Texas in March, which occurred because the suspect “thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.”
The letter was signed by 12 other senators, including former presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
According to the senators, the Justice Department has taken “little action” despite an earlier warning
from the FBI, which predicted a surge in hate crimes.
They also described Dreiband’s op-ed regarding the matter
as well as his briefing call with Asian American groups as “far from an adequate response”
from the department’s Civil Rights Division, which supposedly aims to “uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
The letter recalled the Civil Rights Division’s actions following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which included
three major elements that sought to protect Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans from discrimination and hate. They also cited how the division monitored reports of such cases and reached out to affected communities.
“There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers,” Sens. Hirono and Booker wrote. “It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic.”
The senators urged the Justice Department to develop a concrete plan, provide monthly reports, and conduct extensive outreach, among other measures. They expect the Civil Rights Division — which Dreiband heads — to respond by May 15.
“Asian Americans are still facing racism and xenophobia related to the #COVID19 pandemic,” tweeted
Asian American Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who signed the letter. “That’s one reason why @SenatorDurbin [Richard Durbin] and I joined @maziehirono in calling on @TheJusticeDept to take concrete steps to address the surge in hate crimes and discrimination against this community.”
Read the full letter here