Discrimination Suspect In Chinese-American Scientists' Arrests Rep. Ted Lieu recently wrote a letter calling for a Justice Department investigation into the arrests of several Chinese-American scientists on espionage. He speaks with NPR's Scott Simon.

Discrimination Suspect In Chinese-American Scientists' Arrests

Discrimination Suspect In Chinese-American Scientists' Arrests

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Rep. Ted Lieu recently wrote a letter calling for a Justice Department investigation into the arrests of several Chinese-American scientists on espionage. He speaks with NPR's Scott Simon.


Several Chinese-American scientists have been arrested on espionage charges in recent months only to have those charges later dropped. A group of lawmakers in Congress has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether race, ethnicity or national origin played a role in those arrests. Congressman Ted Lieu of California wrote the letter, and he joins us now on the phone from Alaska. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

TED LIEU: Thank you.

SIMON: What's your concern? Why did you write this letter?

LIEU: America is an exceptional country, the best in the world. But we have our blind spots. And in our history, you'll see discrimination against Asian-Americans. We've had the Chinese Exclusion Act, Alien Land Laws and then, in World War II, we interned over 100,000 Americans who happened to be of Japanese descent. And recently, we have a number of Asian-Americans that have been arrested - indicted for alleged spying - and then having all those charges dropped. And this is a long history of discrimination. We want to make sure that this does not keep recurring.

SIMON: Of course, as I don't have to tell you, it is a fact that Chinese hackers have been accused of stealing intellectual property from U.S. businesses and breaching U.S. government systems. That's a concern for you, too?

LIEU: Absolutely. And one of their issues that our federal government has had is inability of our government to realize the distinction between a foreign national and an American citizen who happens to be of Asian-American descent. And the letter that I authored was co-led with Congresswoman Judy Chu, as well as Keith Ellison, who happens to be Muslim-American because he understands this is a very similar issue that affects not just Asian-Americans but many minority groups in America.

SIMON: Do you see any telltale signs in the cases you've read about, Congressman Lieu, that concern you specifically?

LIEU: So the one recurrent theme that all these cases of Americans being arrested for spying and having all their charges dropped is they also happen to be Asian-American. So if you look at the Professor Xi case, they were suspicious he was, you know, communicating with people - with China. And a dozen FBI agents stormed his house, some with guns drawn, arrested him in front of his daughters. And he was later indicted because he allegedly had the secret blueprints to this secret confidential pocket heater device that he was allegedly sharing with Chinese counterparts. Well, it turned out the blueprints had nothing to do with that device. And there was nothing unusual about what he was doing. And the Department of Justice dropped the case, you know, four to five months later, after wrecking his life and wrecking his reputation.

SIMON: Have you gotten a response from the Justice Department, Congressman?

LIEU: We are going to be meeting with the attorney general November 18 - the members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. And so hopefully we'll get some good resolution at that meeting.

SIMON: What would you count as a positive response from Attorney General Lynch?

LIEU: Number one, that we don't see these cases again. But second, that there is proper training and oversight of both law enforcement agents and prosecutors in terms of who they investigate, who they arrest, who they indict, to make sure that ethnicity and race and religion are not playing any part.

SIMON: Congressman Ted Lieu of California on his way to China on an official congressional visit. Thanks so much for being with us.

LIEU: Thank you.

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