Sen. Mazie Hirono speaks at a press conference, joined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (left) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on April 22 passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act by a vote of 94-1, a bill to address the rise in hate crimes and violence against the AAPI community.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was the lone vote against the bill.

Following its passage, Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) called for swift House consideration of the bill so that President Biden can sign the bill into law.

“Today’s historic, bipartisan vote on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act sends a powerful message of solidarity to the AAPI community — that the United States Senate rejects anti-Asian hate. Now, I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so the bill can go to President Biden to sign into law,” Hirono said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth recounted racism faced by her mother.

“About three weeks ago my 80-year-old mom came home from the grocery store visibly upset and I asked her what had happened and she had been harassed by the grocery store clerk, who kept pushing her away as she was trying to buy some grapes,” Duckworth said. “She was trying to pick out grapes she was told, ‘Go stand over here,’ so she moved over and they said, ‘No, go stand over there.’

“And they just kept hassling her, and this happens all the time. And my mom finally confronted the grocery store clerk and said, ‘Listen, I’m just here to buy grapes for my granddaughter’s lunch. I’m not here to fight you. Just let me buy the grapes.’

“And this bill will allow me go home and tell my mom we did something about it. And this bill tells the AAPI community, who are seen as the other, who are often asked, ‘Where are you from really?’ And I’ve had that happen to me while wearing the uniform of this nation with her flag on my shoulder and asked, ‘Where are you from really? Yeah, yeah, your dad has been here since the Revolution but where are you from?’

“This tells the AAPI community: we see you, and we will stand with you, and we will protect you. There’s a lot more work to be done, this is a good first step. I want to thank everyone who voted for this bill and for Mazie for taking the lead and Sen. (Richard) Blumenthal (D-Conn.) for working so hard with his excellent amendment and his work with (Sen.) Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

“I’m just so thankful to my Tri-Caucus colleagues who have worked together on this issue and I urge all of my colleagues today to go home and talk about this so all of the AAPIs in their communities know that they’re seen and they’re now protected as well.”

“For more than a year, Asian Americans all across our nation have been screaming out for help, and in passing the legislation sponsored by Sen. Hirono and I, the Senate showed that they heard our pleas,” Meng said. “I thank and applaud each and every senator who voted to pass our bill which was a bold step in taking action to combat the ongoing hate and violence against Asian Americans. I also want to especially thank my hometown senator, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for shepherding the measure through the Senate, and securing its overwhelming bipartisan support.

“We’ve all heard the sickening stories and seen the horrifying videos of Asian Americans being beaten, slashed and spat on. Today, the Senate said enough is enough, and underscored loud and clear that there is no place for hate anywhere in our society. More reporting of hate crimes will provide us with increased data and a more accurate picture of the attacks that have been occurring against those of Asian descent, and a more centralized and unified way of reviewing these crimes would help to address the problem in a more effective manner.

“I have heard from so many Asian Americans who tell me that they are scared to walk outside. Families won’t let their kids go to the park or play outdoors. People are urging their parents and grandparents to stay inside, telling them that they’ll run their errands and deliver groceries to them. Being forced to endure this terror and fear is unconscionable and unacceptable. Everybody in our country deserves to feel safe, and that includes the Asian American community.

“Again, I commend the Senate for moving our COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act closer to the finish line, and I now look forward to the House swiftly following suit.”

The House is expected to take up the legislation in May, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

President Biden issued a statement last month saying he supports the bill, and called on Congress to pass it.

In addition to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, Meng has spoken out and worked tirelessly for more than a year to fight the spike in hate and racist attacks against Asian Americans. This work includes, among other things, passing a resolution to denounce this increased xenophobia and violence and introducing an updated version of the measure; Biden’s presidential memorandum that included several pieces of legislation she sponsored; and her recent emotional testimony before a historic House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the rise of intolerance and discrimination towards Asian Americans.

The congresswoman also traveled to Georgia following the recent mass shooting at Atlanta-area spas and joined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in February to discuss her efforts to combat anti-Asian hate.

Meng was herself a victim of anti-Asian bigotry when she received several racist and hate-filled messages on her office voicemail after her resolution passed the House in September.

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