Concern for the younger generation: The targeting and profiling of Chinese and Asian Americans and immigrants
Dr. Su is one of many Asian American and immigrant scientists and researchers targeted by overzealous government prosecutions and misguided scrutiny based on ethnicity.
By Gisela Perez Kusakawa
Dr. Wei Su is a husband and father. He is concerned for the younger generation of Chinese Americans, like his son. Dr. Su understands very well the challenges that Chinese Americans face, particularly when working in the government. He is one of many Chinese American scientists caught up in the widespread prosecution and misguided scrutiny of Chinese Americans and immigrants based on their ethnicity.
Dr. Su has always deeply loved the United States. It was this love that motivated him to serve in the U.S. Army for 24 years as a scientist. He studied engineering for his bachelor’s degree in China, and continued to pursue his passion in the sciences, graduating with his PhD in electrical engineering at the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1992. In the army, he not only had an unblemished record, but was recognized and respected for his contributions and rose up through the ranks. Dr. Su was a recipient of numerous awards for his service, including the U.S. Army Innovation Achievement Platinum and Gold Awards, NATO Scientific Achievement Award, and Who’s Who in America Lifetime Achievement Award.
During his time working for the U.S. government, Dr. Su felt that he should not travel to China to visit friends and family as the scrutiny of Chinese Americans was too strong. After the Wen Ho Lee case, Dr. Su’s friends warned him to leave the government. However, Dr. Su did not think leaving his life of public service in the government was the right thing to do. Asian Americans were already underrepresented in the government. Dr. Su has a deep sense of justice and fairness, and he believed that if he didn’t do anything wrong or make mistakes, he would be fine. Or so he thought.
Unfortunately, despite 24 years of unblemished government service, the FBI began interrogating Dr. Su in 2011, but he believes their investigations started much earlier. He was placed under surveillance, threatened with arrest and stripped of his security clearance. The investigation was eventually dropped with no charges filed. However, in 2015, the Pentagon’s Consolidated Adjudications Facility (CAF) suspended his security clearance using false evidence. Dr. Su fought for many years to clear his name. Finally, in May 2019 Dr. Su received a letter from CAF rescinding the Pentagon’s previous letters that suspended and revoked Dr. Su’s security clearance. According to this letter, “the Pentagon’s previous letters suspending and revoking Su’s security ‘are not accurate and are hereby rescinded.’”
Although CAF eventually rescinded their suspension and revocation of Dr. Su’s security clearance and the FBI dropped the case against him, it was little consolation for the great harm he endured. He feels that he was profiled and targeted based on his race and national origin despite many years of service to the U.S. To this day, he still does not know why the FBI was investigating him and is extremely cautious about his actions that other Americans would take without thinking twice about them. After years of fighting for justice, Dr. Su considers himself a survivor. He is not alone. We are living in a time of intense scrutiny for Asian Americans and immigrants particularly of Chinese descent, as the government has increased efforts to prosecute Chinese scientists and researchers.
He worries about the younger generation of Chinese Americans and how many more are being wrongfully investigated, questioned or surveilled. He believes that the FBI’s treatment of him was biased, and that the increased targeting of Chinese Americans is problematic. “You should treat everyone fairly and not because [of] their race,” said Dr. Su, “Of course there are bad apples, but most people come here because they love this country and do a lot for this country. And you have to treat them fairly or they won’t come here, and [we] will lose their contributions. America is doing good because we are doing things fairly.”
Advancing Justice — AAJC is very concerned that pressure from people at the top of the administration to crack down on Chinese espionage is resulting in the profiling and wrongful prosecutions of Chinese and Asian Americans and immigrants. From the surveillance of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities to the prosecution of Chinese American scientists and researchers, we see a pattern of misguided suspicion and racial discimination against Asian Americans and immigrants who continue to face the stereotypes of being perpetually foreign regardless of citizenship or how long they have been in the country. Although there may be real security threats, we expect the FBI and government agencies to rely on real evidence rather than casting a wide net of suspicion over an entire group of people based on their ethnicity. Stressing the importance of facts, Dr. Su said, “[I]f you have a charge or allegation, you have to have facts, and not just your imagination. Investigators cannot lie. You have to have facts; that is the important thing. [W]hen you know they are not engaging in espionage and you try to label him a spy…[t]hat is hurting Chinese Americans and is not a part of our Constitutional principles.”
We are witnessing an increase in xenophobic rhetoric and intensified misguided scrutiny of Chinese Americans and immigrants. This has immeasurably harmed Chinese Americans like Dr. Su. It has fostered fear among Chinese Americans and immigrants working across different sectors nationwide from universities to federal agencies. Rather than relying on evidence and facts, the government has relied on racial profiling and gross generalizations to create suspicion around an entire race or ethnicity. The result is an entire generation of Chinese Americans and immigrants who live in fear within their own country.
Gisela Perez Kusakawa is the NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.