Sherry Chen, left and Xiaoxing Xi, right, at a press conference after espionage charges against them were dropped
By Ed Diokno
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is joining the call by Asian American members of Congress and civil rights organization for an investigation on the targeting and prosecution of Chinese Americans suspected of spying.
“We are concerned that these cases may reflect insufficient supervision, due diligence and expertise in investigating before arresting our fellow citizens and tainting them and their families with the charge of disloyalty,” stated a July 15 letter to Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The commission members cited the cases of Temple University professor Xiaoxing Xi and National Weather Service hydrologist Sherry Chen, both of whom had espionage charges dropped because of insufficient evidence and investigators didn’t understand the science they believed the two were releasing to foreign governments.
“The nature of these charges have a long term devastating impact on the careers and the families of those wrongly accused who have yet to receive a formal apology from the Department of Justice,” said the letter. “In this highly racially charged environment, they also have the potential to harm the communities from which these scientists come and undermine the credibility of the Department of Justice.”
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Earlier, a June 21 letter from the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 35 AAPI civil rights agencies expressed similar concerns, about “… the apparent practice of racial profiling in national espionage cases. Both Sherry Chen and Professor Xi’s cases highlight the very human costs of charges brought to court with insufficient evidence,” said Ken Lee, Chief Executive Officer of the Organization of Chinese Americans. “The treatment that both of them endured must never happen again.”
No one is denying that there are foreign governments trying to steal U.S. military technology and secrets. The DOJ has been able to investigate and prosecute several of those cases. What concerns the Commission and the AAPI community is that investigators may be using racial profiling rather than hard evidence to prosecute individuals.
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In November last year, 40 members of Congress called on the U.S. Attorney General to investigate whether race or ethnicity played a role in the accusations of espionage faced by Xi and Chen.
Meanwhile, the scientists are still suffering from repercussions from the accusations. Chen did not get her old job back. In May 2016, Chen filed a discrimination complaint against the Commerce Department.
Xi returned to work but his family is still feeling the trauma. He wrote on his website: “I hope my elder daughter Joyce can again focus on her college work without being occupied by trying to tell everybody that her dad is not a spy. I hope my younger daughter Sarah can start healing from the trauma of seeing armed agents burst into our home and her daddy taken away in handcuffs. I hope my students can now finish their degree work without being concerned about having a ‘criminal’ as their advisor.”
There have been no apologies from the DOJ for their actions even though they were clearly in the wrong. Only in the case of Los Alamos National Lab scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was also falsely accused, did the judge apologize.
“We want to make sure this doesn’t keep happening to the community,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. “When you have Asian Americans being targeted for espionage for taking actions that otherwise would not be suspicious if they weren’t Asian Americans, then you have a problem.”
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing a federal civil rights enforcement report. The Commission letter was signed by the six commissioners: Chairman Martin R. Castro, Robert Achtenberg, Karen K. Narasaki, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, David Kladney and Michael Yaki.