Senators Kelly, Sinema Vote Down Amendment Prohibiting Discrimination Against Asians in College Admissions

Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema pose with their vaccine records in D.C. on December 18. [Photo via Twitter]

By Corinne Murdock

Both Arizona Senators voted down an amendment to prohibit discrimination against Asian Americans in higher education.

The amendment was introduced by U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Kennedy (R-LA) under Senate bill 937, the “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.”

Specifically, the amendment would prohibit federal funding for any college or university that discriminates against Asian-Americans during recruitment, applicant review, or admissions. The act itself seeks to prosecute hate crimes against Asians motivated by COVID-19. It proposes to implement an online hate crime reporting database and expand “culturally competent” education campaigns.

A study on universities and colleges from the 1990s to 2015 found that those who banned affirmative action programs saw their numbers of Black, Hispanic, and Native American minorities decline significantly. The findings implied that race heavily impacted admissions.

On the U.S. Senate floor, Cruz asserted that universities are actively discriminating against Asian Americans currently. He explained that the DOJ’s decision to drop the lawsuit against Yale University for discrimination against Asian Americans spurred this amendment.

“[T]his amendment is straightforward. It targets the ongoing discrimination that is being directed against Asian Americans by colleges and universities across the country, including preeminent institutions such as Yale and Harvard, which are denying admission to qualified Asian-American applicants in favor of underrepresented minority groups,” said Cruz. “The U.S. Department of Justice was suing Yale for its discrimination against Asian Americans until the Biden Administration dismissed that lawsuit.”

In follow-up remarks, Kennedy concurred with Cruz’s assessment. He said this was one baby step in the right direction, but that Congress needs to go further.

“Now, I know [these major universities] think they know how to discriminate in the right way, but discrimination is discrimination,” asserted Kennedy. “At one of these universities in 2013, Harvard admitted that if it admitted Asian Americans purely on the basis of academic achievement, it would have doubled the number of Asian Americans. Now, this is wrong; it is contemptible, it is odious.”

In opposition to the amendment, the sponsor of the bill – Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) – claimed that federal law already prohibits discrimination. She said that turning away Asian American applicants based on the number of Asian American students already at an institution of higher education was a longstanding, integral component of diversity initiatives within admissions policies.

“This amendment is a transparent and cynical attack on longstanding admission policies that serve to increase diversity and provide opportunity to students of color in our institutions of higher learning,” said Hirono. “This amendment also threatens colleges and universities with the loss of federal funding for pursuing or using policies that our courts have upheld repeatedly.”

The amendment to the bill failed, with 49 yeas and 48 yeas – 11 under the required minimum of 60 yeas for adoption.

Both Kelly and Sinema are in support of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act as a whole.

Kelly condemned the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans, or Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), in February.

“As folks virtually gather to celebrate the #ChineseNewYear, let’s remember that, for some, this joyous celebration for Chinese Americans is being marred by the rise in hate crimes against our AAPI communities. We can’t let it go unanswered,” wrote Kelly.

Sinema hasn’t addressed the Asian hate crimes on her accounts.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed the Senate earlier this week. It now heads to the House for consideration.

Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.