Cantwell, Colleagues Call for Federal Agencies to Address Coronavirus-Related Discrimination Against Asian Americans

While reports show many Asian Americans fear for their physical safety since outbreak, there have been no coordinated efforts by federal agencies to address rising harassment and attacks; Stop AAPI Hate reports more than 1,100 reports of coronavirus discrimination in two weeks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) in a letter urging the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) to issue guidance to federal agencies on preventing and addressing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread across the country, reports of physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans associated with the virus have spiked. There has also been a “surge” of reports of incidents of racist and xenophobic attacks against Asian Americans to tip lines and news outlets across the country, with reports of many Asian Americans expressing fear for their physical safety and that of their family members and friends. Additionally, anti-Asian stigma has led to a reported slump in activity in Asian-owned restaurants and businesses. As of yet, there has been no coordinated effort across federal agencies to address this issue.

On April 3, the online reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate reported that it had received over 1,100 direct reports of coronavirus discrimination in two weeks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). The most common types of discrimination reported were verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault, and the report noted that AAPI women were twice as likely to be harassed as men. As a result of shelter-in-place policies, a significant number of incidents took place in grocery stores, pharmacies, and big box retail stores.

There have been numerous reports of anti-Asian discrimination related to the coronavirus in Washington state. In January after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Washington state, the nonprofit Asian Counseling and Referral Service sent out a warning that “immigrant and refugee community leaders and organizations have noticed an alarming increase in bias and harassment against our Asian American communities.”

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction issued guidance on discrimination in late February that asked educators to remind communities “that the risk of COVID-19 is not at all connected to race, ethnicity or nationality.” King County and Seattle also developed anti-stigma guidance that states, among other things, “having Chinese ancestry – or any other ancestry – does not make a person more vulnerable to this illness.”

Anti-Asian sentiment relating to COVID-19 has also been voiced by certain members of the federal government, including President Trump and several members of Congress, who have used harmful and stigmatizing language when referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” or “the China virus,” despite warnings that use of the terms would cause harm to Asian Americans, and despite World Health Organization guidance discouraging the use of naming diseases based on geographic location. 

“There has not been a concerted effort from federal agencies to prevent and address anti-Asian sentiment related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “In order to reduce the dangerous and hateful spread of anti-Asian sentiment that is on the rise during this pandemic, we respectfully request that USCCR issue such guidance without delay, and that it take into account language accessibility for Asian Americans with limited English proficiency.”

In addition to Cantwell, Warren, Duckworth, and Hirono, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also signed the letter.

The full text of the letter can be found HERE