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'We must change': Biden rolls out racial equity agenda with executive orders on prison reform, xenophobia

Crystal Hill
·Reporter
·3 min read
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President Biden rolled out his racial equity agenda Tuesday afternoon in a series of executive orders and presidential memos addressing the long-standing issues of housing discrimination, criminal justice and xenophobia.

Speaking from the White House, Biden called for a unified approach that involves all of government, not just one agency, to combat systemic inequalities and racism. He said the death of George Floyd, who was killed last summer when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck, “opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around the world” to racial injustice.

“Advancing equity has to be everyone’s job,” Biden said. “We must change. I know it’s going to take time. But I firmly believe that the nation is ready to change.”

Joe Biden
President Biden delivers remarks on racial equity on Tuesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The president signed four executive orders that he said will end the Department of Justice’s contracts with private prisons by declining to renew the current agreements when they expire, direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take steps to reform discriminatory housing policies and seek to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and tribal nations.

Biden also signed an order that calls for action to combat xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which Biden says has skyrocketed during the pandemic. A senior Biden administration official, speaking to reporters on background, attributed the rise in xenophobia to language used by the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly used racially charged terms like “China virus” and “kung flu” to describe the coronavirus.

Biden’s agenda, which is being led by domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, will also address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

Susan Rice
White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“Americans of color are being infected by and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates,” Rice said during a White House press briefing. “One in 10 Black Americans and one in 11 Latino workers are currently unemployed. By some estimates, 40 percent of Black-owned businesses have been forced to close for good during the COVID crisis.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development order aims to remedy the role the federal government has played in discriminatory housing policies in the U.S., including redlining, which denies financial services to people of color, and limiting access to mortgages, according to senior Biden administration officials.

On the issue of private prisons, Rice cited an inspector general report that she said found the for-profit institutions to be “less safe for correctional officers and for prisoners.” The White House declined to comment on whether the order would affect immigration detention facilities run by private prison companies.

Joe Biden
Biden signs an executive order on racial equity on Tuesday as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. (Evan Vucci/AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that Biden’s ambitious agenda won’t be a simple task. “This is going to be hard, and we are not trying to sugarcoat that,” she said. “It’s going to take a multifaceted approach, and we are open-eyed about the challenge.”

Biden’s executive action builds on orders he signed last week, including an order to rescind the 1776 Commission, a controversial panel formed by the Trump administration, apparently to challenge the New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which was developed into a school curriculum about the origins and legacy of the slave trade in the U.S.

Biden has also revoked Trump’s executive order limiting federal agencies from implementing diversity training.

Hunter Walker contributed to this report.

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