Biden to address racism toward Asian Americans during pandemic

▶ Watch Video: Biden to announce executive action targeting racism against Asian Americans

Washington — President Biden is expected to use his executive authority this week to disavow racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, specifically targeting anti-Asian animus connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. This action is expected on Tuesday, multiple people familiar with the plan told CBS News. 

The directives, which may take the form of an executive order or a presidential memo, are expected to be part of a package of executive actions focusing on “equity,” according to two people familiar with the plans. The other administrative actions are expected to focus on Tribal governments, fair housing, and private prisons. The Biden administration has told outside groups it is also preparing measures on voting rights. 

According to a draft calendar of impending executive actions distributed to outside advocacy groups and viewed by CBS News, the administration is planning to take actions related to climate on Wednesday, health care on Thursday, and immigration on Friday.

The Biden transition team and White House Domestic Policy Council have been preparing executive action geared toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for weeks and discussed tenets of the presidential order with several outside groups, three of these advisers said.   

Drafts of the forthcoming executive order have contained a mix of both symbolic and real government action. Some of the elements discussed are likely not to make it into the final text of the executive order, according to the people involved in discussions with the White House.

The Biden directives are expected to include guidance to the Department of Justice instructing it to assist with more accurate data collection and reporting of hate incidents and harassment toward Asian Americans. There were more than 2,800 self-reported hate incidents, ranging from racial slurs to physical violence, including acid and knife attacks, between March 2020 and the end of December, according to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate.


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Asian Americans: Battling Bias

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The Biden executive order is also expected to direct federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to examine whether there are xenophobic references like “China virus” in any existing policies, directives or government websites published by the Trump administration.   

A CBS News review of COVID-19-related executive orders issued by the Trump administration did not find any specific reference to “China virus,” the term the former president often used to blame the Chinese government for the pandemic. But if the term is found in existing policies, the forthcoming executive action is expected to order its removal. 

Advocacy groups are urging the Biden administration to include additional actionable items, such as directing the attorney general to investigate and initiate civil actions on anti-AAPI hate.  

During President George W. Bush’s administration, the Justice Department prioritized prosecuting bias crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of Arab and South-Asian descent. But even if Mr. Biden’s order is mostly symbolic, many view it as a critical step away from some of the race-baiting language used by  the Trump administration. Former President Trump repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus” and “Kung Flu,” which critics viewed as inflammatory.  

The new order is also expected to task HHS with developing language and cultural guidance training related to COVID-19, including making sure vaccine and health information from the federal government is available in more languages, according to one of the outside advisers. Broader language guidance about stereotypes and myths like “model minority” or “perpetual foreigner,” was also discussed as being addressed in the White House guidance.  

Cynthia Choi, an executive director of the group Stop AAPI Hate, said, “The idea that the president of the United States is not going to be hostile and not be a super spreader of hate is incredible. I hope this order reverses the damage caused under the Trump administration, which used federal dollars and resources to create a hostile climate and led to backlash directed toward our community.” 

In the additional executive actions based on “equity,” the Biden White House is also expected to announce a directive to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote equity in housing. This order is expected to reverse a Trump administration decision to remove a regulation intended to promote fair housing.  

The move is not unexpected, since Mr. Biden campaigned on a promise to reverse the Trump administration’s position. 

One source familiar with the action tells CBS News the announcement is expected to “go beyond” the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which aimed to hold states and communities accountable under the Fair Housing Act.  

The Trump administration revoked the AFFH rule in 2020, calling it a regulatory burden.

Also expected on Tuesday is an executive order to begin eliminating the use of private prisons, which was one of Mr. Biden’s campaign promises. In 2016, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin the process of reducing — and ultimately eliminating — the use of private prisons, a policy that was later rescinded by the Trump administration.

Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, who has introduced legislation on ending federal contracting with for-profit prisons, told CBS News in an interview that Tuesday’s executive order is “a good first step.”

“We’re the most incarcerating country in the world,” Watson Coleman said. “So, for it to be the most developed and sophisticated and richest country … it is really contradictory that we could have such an overpopulation of people in any form of prison.”

“Without continuing to use private prisons, there’s not that incentive to over-incarcerate,” she said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.  

Ed O’Keefe, Sara Cook, Adam Brewster and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this report.  

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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