LOS ANGELES (June 21, 2016) — This morning, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and a coalition of over 80 local and national organizations called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) to investigate the pattern of baseless and seemingly spurious prosecutions of Chinese Americans for economic espionage. In a letter sent today, the coalition called on IG Horowitz to investigate the policies and practices that led to this rash of unjust prosecutions, and particularly, whether the DOJ relied on race, ethnicity, or national origin when deciding whether to charge individuals.
In the last 18 months, federal prosecutors have initiated criminal proceedings against four Chinese Americans for spying for China, only to suddenly drop the charges without explanation or apology. This is no small matter, as the case of renowned scientist Dr. Xiaoxing Xi shows.
One year ago, Xi was arrested by the FBI at gunpoint for illegally emailing photos and blueprints of a restricted pocket heater to China. However, the device Xi discussed with Chinese academics was a completely different item that was not restricted. Furthermore, he was actually required to collaborate with Chinese academics; it was a term of his funding grant from the National Science Foundation, a U.S. government agency. Xi spent months fighting the case before the government suddenly dropped the charges, but the damaging effects of the ordeal are far from over.
Sherry Chen is another recent victim whose charges were dropped without explanation.
“My life has turned inside-out, my family is financially destroyed, and my reputation is damaged,” said Chen. “The nightmare is still not over for me. The government recently terminated my employment, exactly one year after all the charges against me were dropped. After what has happened to me and my family, I deserve an explanation. No more innocent Americans should have to go through the ordeal that I have been subjected to.”
These are not the only instances where prosecutors have rushed to accuse Chinese Americans of espionage. They are the latest examples in our government’s long history of targeting Asian Americans as inherently disloyal based on their race, as the Wen Ho Lee case and Japanese American internment painfully remind us. This pattern is all too familiar to Arab and Muslim Americans, who have also been singled out for unjust government scrutiny based on race in the post-9/11 era.
“This is yet another embarrassing chapter in our nation’s dark history of targeting immigrant minority communities, and we need to end it now,” said Christopher Punongbayan, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Asian Law Caucus. “When our government targets people for punishment based on race, it is everyone’s problem. Yesterday, it was Japanese Americans. Today, it is Muslim Americans and Chinese Americans. This unfair treatment shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
Civil rights groups are not the only ones concerned; members of Congress and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have also called for an investigation into this troubling pattern.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice has been investigating the pattern of targeting Chinese American scientists and academics, and filed a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request on the issue last month. The group strongly believes that an independent investigation by the IG is needed to fully identify and correct this troubling pattern. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus started a petition, currently signed by over 1,500 people, to draw attention to this issue, and plans to follow up with government agencies to ensure this pattern is thoroughly investigated. For more information, visit scientistsnotspies.org.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. The affiliation’s members are: Advancing Justice-AAJC (Washington, D.C.), Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Advancing Justice-Chicago, and Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.