Justice Department, HHS conduct listening session on bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra co-hosted a listening session with stakeholders on the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was signed into law by President Biden on May 20. Under the legislation, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations, are required to issue guidance aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The session was moderated by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. 

In keeping with the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to combat hate in all of its forms, the listening session was an opportunity for stakeholders, including Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) and other community-based and anti-hate advocacy organizations, to provide feedback to HHS and the Justice Department on the guidance. The diverse set of stakeholders represented the wide impact of increased hate and bias, and mutual support among impacted communities.

Garland and Becerra opened the listening session by acknowledging that many in the AA and NHPI communities have faced two plagues during the pandemic — COVID-19 and violence motivated by bias — and expressed the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to confront both. They then detailed steps the administration is already taking through their agencies to address these urgent issues.

Garland described how he has directed the Justice Department to take steps to improve incident reporting, increase law enforcement training and coordination at all levels of government, prioritize community outreach, and make better use of civil enforcement mechanisms. These efforts have included increasing investigative resources dedicated to civil rights cases, expediting the department’s review of hate crimes, increasing language access, and revitalizing the Community Relations Service.

Becerra described how HHS has established the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, re-invigorated the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which is housed at HHS, and invested millions of dollars in funding for AA and NHPI health care entities, among many others.

Following Garland and Becerra’s opening remarks, Gupta moderated a conversation with stakeholders about the rise in hate crimes and hate incidents across the country, barriers to reporting these incidents, and what the guidance the Justice Department and HHS are required to issue should include.

In response, community-based organizations emphasized the need for language access to communities, robust reporting systems for hate crime across federal and state agencies, various perspectives on the types and forms of guidance that would best serve impacted communities and policy ideas that will help treat hate crimes and bias-related incidents as a public health issue, among many others.

Becerra, Garland and Gupta closed the listening session by thanking the advocacy organizations for their participation, thoughtful dialogue, and commitment to advancing justice.

Stakeholders who would like to provide recommendations on the guidance are encouraged to submit their public comments to the Justice Department and HHS at COVID19HateCrimesGuidance@hhs.gov.