WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — For the first time in decades, Congress held a hearing Thursday to discuss a rise in discrimination and violence targeting Asian Americans.

The advocacy group Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate says is has uncovered more than 3,500 hate crimes against Asian Americans since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic. During the congressional hearing, a slate of Asian American lawmakers and scholars said that was supported by former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and insistence upon calling coronavirus the “China virus” or other racist terms.

“Your party can talk about issues with any other country … but you don’t have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids,” an emotional Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said.

She and fellow panelists said it was time for Congress to pass anti-discrimination legislation to protect Asian Americans and reverse longstanding stereotypes that depict Asian Americans as always foreigners.

“Families have had rocks thrown at them. Nurses have been spit on,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said.

“Lives are at stake,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said.

While denouncing the violence, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said it’s not wrong to hold China accountable.

“I think the Chinese Community Party, running the country of China, I think they are the bad guys,” he said. “My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society.”

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., went even further, calling the hearing itself divisive.

“To attack our society as systemically racist, well, that’s an insult,” he said.

The hearing was scheduled before eight people, six of them Asian American women, were shot and killed at in Atlanta-area massage shops Tuesday. Law enforcement has not labeled that spree shooting as a hate crime.