Members of Congress, joined by APA community leaders, are calling the U.S. Attorney General to investigate and determine whether race and national origin were factors in unfounded espionage-related charges brought against Sherry Chen, a Chinese American hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
Members of Congress Ask for Review of Dropped Espionage Case
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch is being asked investigate not only if race was a factor in Mrs. Chen's arrest, but also to determine whether race, national origin, religion or gender are being used by federal agencies in targeting federal employees for arrest, surveillance or other actions.
In October 2014, Chen was publicly arrested at her workplace and charged with four felony charges, largely built on the suspicion that she had been working on behalf of the Chinese government to threaten U.S. infrastructure. But less than one week before trial, the government dismissed all charges against Mrs. Chen.
A letter to Attorney General Lynch, signed by twenty-two members of Congress, expresses concern that Chen's case is indicative of a broader campaign of racial profiling against Asian Americans. It certainly isn't the first time this has happened. Sherry Chen is just the latest example.
Ms. Chen's case also reminds us of what our federal government did to Wen Ho Lee, a federal nuclear scientist. Mr. Lee was incarcerated for nine months without a trial for alleged spying. Like in Ms. Chen's case, the arrest appeared to be based less on the alleged evidence than on the suspect's race. Federal prosecutors subsequently dropped the spying charges. In the hearing that freed Mr. Lee, Federal District Judge James Parker stated the government's tactics "have embarrassed this entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it" (Los Angeles Times, Wen Ho Lee Freed, Judge Scolds U.S. Over Case Tactics, September 14, 2000). We want to make sure our government does not repeat situations similar to that of Wen Ho Lee.
No federal employee -- or any American -- should be viewed by our government as more suspicious because of the individual's race. Not only would such targeting be unconstitutional, it has led to shameful chapters in our nation's history. Our government has targeted Asian Pacific Americans in the past, from the yellow peril hysteria that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the forced internment of over a hundred thousand Americans who happened to be of Japanese descent, to the solitary confinement of Wen Ho Lee.
The letter, whose signatories include Congressman Ted Lieu, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congressman Mike Honda and Congresswoman Grace Meng, calls this a civil and constitutional rights issue, and requests that the Justice Department share the results of its investigations to Congress within 120 days.
Meanwhile, Sherry Chen says she just wants her old job back. Rep. Lieu and his colleagues are calling for Mrs. Chen's reinstatement, including five months' back pay and a public apology.
Read the full letter to the Attorney General here.
More on Sherry Chen's case: Accused of Spying for China, Until She Wasn't