In remarks before signing the order, Biden said the U.S. government needs to change “its whole approach” on the issue of racial equity. He added that the nation is less prosperous and secure because of the scourge of systemic racism.
“We must change now,” the president said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well.”
Biden rose to the presidency during a year of intense reckoning on institutional racism in the U.S. The moves announced on Tuesday reflect his efforts to follow through with campaign pledges to combat racial injustice.
Beyond calling on the Justice Department to curb the use of private prisons, the new orders will recommit the federal government to respect tribal sovereignty and disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community over the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden will also direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take steps necessary to promote equitable housing policy.
The order to end the reliance on privately-run prisons directs the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. The move will effectively revert the Justice Department to the same posture it held at the end of the Obama administration.
“This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration,” Biden said.
The order highlighting xenophobia against Asian Americans is in large part a reaction to what White House officials say was offensive and dangerous rhetoric from the Trump administration that Biden believes needs to be addressed. Trump, throughout the pandemic, repeatedly used xenophobic language in public comments when referring to the coronavirus.
This memorandum will direct Health and Human Services officials to consider issuing guidance describing best practices to advance cultural competency and sensitivity toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the federal government’s COVID-19 response. It also directs the Department of Justice to partner with AAPI communities to prevent hate crimes and harassment.
The latest executive actions come after Biden signed an order Monday reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender people from serving in the military. Last week, he signed an order reversing Trump‘s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim and African countries.
Biden last week also directed law enforcement and intelligence officials in his administration to study the threat of domestic violent extremism in the United States, an undertaking launched weeks after a mob of insurgents loyal to Trump, including some connected to white supremacist groups, stormed the U.S. Capitol.
White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice said Biden sees addressing equity issues as also good for the nation’s bottom line. She cited a Citigroup study from last year that U.S. gross domestic product lost $16 trillion over the last 20 years as a result of discriminatory practices in a range of areas, including in education and access to business loans. The same study finds the U.S. economy would be boosted by $5 trillion over the next five years if it addressed issues of discrimination in areas such as education and access to business loans.
“Building a more equitable economy is essential if Americans are going to compete and thrive in the 21st century,” Rice added.
Throughout his campaign and transition, Biden promised that his administration would keep issues of equity – as well as climate change, another issue he views as an existential crisis – in the shaping of all policy considerations.
Biden, who followed through on early promise to pick a woman to serve as vice president, has also sought to spotlight the diversity of his Cabinet selections.
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Biden‘s pick for treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, who is the first woman to lead the department. Last week, the Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin as the nation’s first Black defense secretary.
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