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Amicus Brief from Asian American Civil Rights Groups Alleges Federal Government Racially Profiles Asian American Researchers, Scientists

Two Asian American civil rights groups have filed an amicus brief today in United States v. Tao that they say provides “significant evidence” of racial profiling against Asian American researchers, according to a press release.

Advancing Justice – AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice) and Advancing Justice – ALC (Asian Law Caucus) have filed the brief in support of Dr. Feng “Franklin” Tao, a tenured University of Kansas engineering professor and the defendant in the United States v. Tao. The organizations oppose the federal government’s increased efforts to profile Chinese American researchers and scientists under the guise of rooting out economic espionage.

In August 2019, Dr. Tao was indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly failing to disclose a full-time contract he held with a Chinese University while conducting research at the University of Kansas, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The indictment came during a period of increased concern from the federal government that China was attempting to steal the results of US taxpayer-funded scientific research. In 2018, the Department of Justice adopted the China Initiative. According to the Justice Department, the initiative prioritizes “identifying and prosecuting those engaged in trade secret theft.”

Advancing Justice – AAJC and Advancing Justice – ALC say Dr. Tao has not engaged in espionage.

“Failure to disclose information on a university form is not economic espionage,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of Advancing Justice – AAJC, said. “Xenophobia from leadership and agents within the U.S. government has translated to real consequences for the Chinese and Asian American community. Chinese scientists and researchers, like Dr. Tao, are caught in the Department of Justice’s broad net for prosecutions and sudden criminalization of minor infractions and we are deeply concerned with the pattern of misguided suspicion and racial discrimination we are seeing in these cases.”

According to the organizations, there has been a surge in prosecutions since the China Initiative. They say the federal government has put pressure on academic institutions to criminalize what would previously have been administrative issues.

“The government needs to prosecute people who steal national security and trade secrets, but targeting people of Chinese descent for investigation without evidence of wrongdoing is not how to do that,” Glenn Katon, litigation director at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and former Department of Justice trial attorney, said in a press release. “Bringing dubious charges against people like Dr. Tao for conduct the government would not have known or cared about but for the China Initiative is discriminatory and a waste of resources.”

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