Scientists Not Spies: Panel on Asian American Immigrants Brings Historic Perspective on Racial Profiling

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On Tuesday evening at the City College of San Francisco, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus teamed up with various Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and social justice groups to host a panel about the portrayal and treatment of Asian immigrants and citizens as national security threats throughout American history.

From Xiaoxing Xi to Japanese American Internment Targeting Immigrant Communities as National Security Threats” brought together perspectives on the history of racial profiling committed against Asian Americans, including “wrongful espionage prosecutions of Chinese American scientists, profiling of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities post-9/11, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.”

This historic panel began with a story from Professor Xiaoxing Xi, a Chinese American scientist who was arrested and charged by the FBI in May 2015 for stealing technology secrets for China.

At the time, he chaired the physics department at Temple University, and had been living in America as a naturalized citizen for 25 years. The night of his arrest, he was woken by loud, urgent knocks. Hurrying half-dressed to answer the door, he was greeted by a team of armed law enforcement officers.

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Xioxing Xi talks about being arrested by federal agents and the charges being suddenly dropped without explanation

He was charged with four counts based on four emails sent to Chinese colleagues, all regarding public technology that was largely unrelated to his professional work at the time. Although he was communicating with Chinese colleagues, these communications were innocent – scholars are generally encouraged to engage with their peers around the world to promote the advancement of scientific knowledge.

When the reason for his arrest was disclosed to him, he was in complete and utter disbelief. “My first thought,” he says, “was that this must be a mistake.”

Eventually, the charges were dropped without explanation. However, the damage had been done.

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