By Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor
President Joe Biden completed his first 100 days on Thursday. For many Asian Americans, the first 100 days have repaired some of the damage done by the previous administration, but there is still much that could be done for the Asian American community.
“It’s a marked difference from the previous administration, in that he and Vice President Harris are very intentional about trying to make the Asian American community be seen and feel heard,” Vincent Pan, Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), told AsAmNews in an interview.
The inauguration of the Biden administration was a historic day for the Asian American community. Vice President Kamala Harris became the first Asian American Vice President in United States history.
It was a historic day that came at a difficult time for Asian Americans. Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Americans have been subjected to increased violence, hate and discrimination. Many Asian Americans feel the increase in violence is a result of the hateful, xenophobic rhetoric spewed by the Trump administration regarding the coronavirus.
Biden pledged to stem the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence when he took office. On January 26, Biden signed an executive memorandum condemning anti-Asian racism. The memorandum encouraged all executive departments to take action against anti-Asian racism.
In his first prime time address on March 11, Biden reiterated the sentiments he expressed in his executive memorandum.
“[Asian Americans are] forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” President Biden said. “It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”
After the March 16th Atlanta Spa shootings that killed six Asian women, Biden again condemned anti-Asian hate. He and Vice President Harris met with leaders in Atlanta to discuss community aid and possible solutions.
Pan praised the statements Biden made but said more needed to be done throughout the whole of government to address structural racism. He added that while legislation like the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a step in the right direction, more community investment is needed to address anti-Asian racism.
“We can’t simply police are way out of the problems that we’ve seen,” Pan said. “We need more investments in education, more investments in health and mental health. I think there’s a need for real substance and targeting of resources.”
During his campaign for president, Biden said he would select a diverse cabinet, including AAPI administrators if elected. After winning the election, Biden and his team nominated Neera Tanden to direct the Office of Management and Budget, Vanita Gupta to be United States Associate Attorney General and Kiran Ahuja to direct the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Tanden’s nomination was blocked and Gupta’s confirmed after some opposition from the GOP. Ahuja has yet to be confirmed.
Many federal legislators were displeased with the lack of AAPI representation among major cabinet roles. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) threatened to block any non-diverse Biden nominee. After further discussions, the Biden Administration agreed to hire an AAPI diversity liaison. On April 14, the administration announced Erika L. Moritsugu as Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Senior Liaison.
“We applaud the appointments of Ambassador Katherine Tai as the 19th U.S. Trade Representative, and Moritsugu,” said APIA Vote in a statement sent to AsAmNews. “We also celebrate that of the Administration’s approximately 1,500 appointments, 15% identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. These are significant steps in making the Biden-Harris administration look like America.”
The hope for many Asian Americans, Pan says, is not just to see an increase in political representation but to see an increase in substantive policy that impacts Asian Americans.
Asian Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. On March 11, Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The relief package will give aid to struggling Asian Americans and Asian American small businesses.
“Asian American owned small businesses have experienced an outsized burden due to anti-Asian sentiments and health related lockdowns,” said APIA Vote. The group thinks the administration’s extension of loans to keep small businesses open and their workers employed through the American Rescue Plan will help.
According to new research conducted by Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Asian Americans were born in a different country. Data collected by AAPI data suggests that there are 1.7 million undocumented Asian immigrants in the U.S. Many Asian American immigrants and immigration rights advocates hoped that the transition from a Trump administration to a Biden administration would mark a positive change in immigration policy.
During his first 100 days, President Biden also reversed several executive orders related to immigration put in place by the Trump administration. He reversed Trump’s travel and immigration limits on 13 countries (many with majority Muslim populations) almost immediately. In February, he lifted a ban Trump set on the issuance of most immigrant visas during the pandemic.
In March, Biden reversed the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the definition of public charge. Trump’s policy would have allowed the use of broader discretion to deny green card applications from immigrants who may have needed to rely on public aid, like food stamps. Pan says Biden’s reversal of this policy could make it easier for Asian American immigrants to access “life-saving programs.”
Despite these reversals, many old immigration policies that negatively impact Asian Americans are still in place. Deportations, for example, especially those of Southeast Asian immigrants have continued.
On Wednesday night, Biden announced his American Families Plan during his first joint address to Congress. The plan could benefit lower-income Asian Americans. Its goal is to provide a pathway towards economic recovery and a better future for struggling Americans.
Pan hopes Biden continues to work on policies that promote the economic well-being of all Americans. He also hopes that the Biden administration finds a way to create a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants.
“I think the president and the vice president do have to champion immigration reform,” Pan said. “I know it’s difficult because the Senate isn’t going to be easy, but it’s not going to get easier.”
While the Biden administration continues to condemn acts of anti-Asian racism, the racism hasn’t seemed to slow down. Organizations like Chinese for Affirmative Action and Asian Americans Advancing Justice have continued to advocate for community-based solutions, including massive financial investment into minority communities.
Advocates believe that Biden’s call for the U.S. to become more competitive with China on Wednesday night won’t help the fight against anti-Asian racism either.
“You have to understand that the racial dynamics Asian Americans face is still in part a product of the foreign policy in this country,” Pan said.
Pan believes that a framework shift away from a model of conflict and competition would be beneficial. The U.S. versus China is a foreign policy that could reinforce anti-Asian racism in America.
“I think we need to find a way of centering the well-being of all people regardless of where they live,” Pan said.
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