Vermont's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is voicing his strong support for a bill that will be voted on this week, calling for increased resources to respond to hate crimes against members of Asian communities.
"I think it's appalling to Vermonters to see any kind of discrimination," Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said Monday at a press conference discussing his support of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
The measure would give the Justice Department new resources, support states in setting up hate crime reporting hotlines and training investigators, and launch education campaigns.
The bill, which NBC News reported already passed the U.S. Senate 94-1 and has the support of President Joe Biden, comes in response to the rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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"I hope it passes — I think it's a great start," said Jeff Lue, a Taiwanese-American resident of Vermont, referring to the bill now making its way through Congress. "The messaging from the top, for a while, had just been 'China virus, China virus.' It also helps to have messaging from the top that this is not OK."
Lue said work that raises awareness of other people's experiences is something he believes will help everyone in the country.
"We have to do everything we can to stop what has been an increasing level of violence directed toward Asian Americans," Welch said.
Advocates for Vermont's 12,000 or more Asian-identifying residents say even though the state has a reputation for safety, attacks elsewhere have left many here worried.
"Hate is a virus," said Mieko Ozeki, a member of the group Vermont Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American for Black Lives. "It just takes one person to cause harm."
Advocates point to reports from around Vermont of race-related bullying among children and incidents like Asian people getting the middle finger for no apparent reason as cause for concern.
More on the push against anti-Asian hate
"Everybody in our country deserves to feel safe, and I hope legislation like this brings us one step closer to that reality," said Paul Yoon, another member of Vermont Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American for Black Lives.
"I'm hopeful," said Jeff Lue, adding that he sees the attention from Congress as taking a step toward the long-term goal of having everyone in the country feeling more comfortable in their communities.
Welch said he is hoping for strong bipartisan support for the hate crimes bill, similar to what was seen in the Senate.
However, according to a report from NBC News, dozens of Asian American and LGBTQ groups are critical of the bill, believing it relies too much on law enforcement and does not do enough to address root causes of bias.
Welch's office said Monday afternoon it expected the vote in the U.S. House to take place Tuesday.