New Era: Biden Signs Racial Equality Orders

President of the United States of America Joe Biden
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President Biden has signed four executive actions meant to advance racial equity in the United States, including directing his administration to fully implement a law combating housing discrimination and another to mitigate xenophobia against Asian Americans.

Biden signed a memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to begin the process of rooting out systemic racism in the housing market by analyzing areas where the previous administration’s policies undermined fair housing laws, according to senior administration officials.

The order also implores the department to fully enforce the Fair Housing Act, senior administration officials said on a press call.

In July, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era housing guidance known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. Implemented in 2015, the provision required jurisdictions that receive federal funding to look for and analyze patterns of housing discrimination and then present a plan to address the practices if they existed.

Trump, however, didn’t view the rule — an add-on to the 1968 Fair Housing Act — as helpful, claiming that the guidance would “destroy” suburbs around the country.

Biden’s executive order fulfills one of the many campaign promises the Democrat made around advancing racial equity while running for president.

Biden also signed an executive order ending the Department of Justice’s use of private prisons, as part of the new administration’s broader criminal justice reform agenda.

Additionally, the president signed a memorandum directing federal agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice, to take steps to stop xenophobia and violence towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The memo also acknowledges what officials described as xenophobic behavior on the part of the previous administration.

Finally, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to engage regularly with Tribal governments in order to strengthen the relationship between the federal government and American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.

Biden signed the four executive actions Tuesday afternoon during a White House event focused on his racial equity agenda.

“Today’s actions are a continuation of the president’s commitment to embed equity across our entire agenda,” said a senior administration official. “We have more work to do, but these are important first steps.”

The actions follow multiple orders that Biden signed when he took office last Wednesday, including a directive that ordered the federal government to “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all.”

Biden has faced pressure from civil rights groups and other advocates to make addressing racial inequities a key focus early on in his administration, particularly following nationwide protests last summer that decried the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The directive aimed at preventing discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comes in part as a response to the rhetoric of former President Trump, whose regular use of the phrase “China virus” to describe the coronavirus was widely criticized as xenophobic. Trump repeatedly defended his use of the phrase while criticizing China’s handling of the disease.

Officials said Biden’s memo would underscore that statements made by the previous administration were “offensive and dangerous” and direct HHS to outline best practices for rooting out bias in the federal government’s COVID-19 response. It is also expected to direct the DOJ to work to with communities to prevent hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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