Xi v. Haugen, No. 21-2798 (3d Cir. appeal filed Sept. 24, 2021)

On February 14, 2022, the AAUP joined an amicus brief challenging the federal government’s discriminatory targeting and surveillance of Asian American and Asian immigrant scientists and researchers—especially those of Chinese descent. The brief, authored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and joined by seventy other organizations, provides important context about the FBI and other federal agencies’ history of engaging in racially motivated investigations and prosecutions of Asian American scientists and academics and describes the immense harm this discriminatory treatment causes individuals and Asian American communities throughout the United States.

Professor Xiaoxing Xi, a physics professor at Temple University and an internationally recognized expert in superconducting technology, is a naturalized American citizen who emigrated from China and has lived in the United States for over thirty years. In 2015, Professor Xi was indicted on federal criminal charges arising from false allegations that he had unlawfully obtained technological information and shared it with entities in China. After being arrested by the FBI in the early morning hours at his home—where his wife and daughters were detained at gunpoint by armed agents—Professor Xi was subjected to hours of interrogation and intrusive bodily searches, was publicly portrayed by the US Attorney’s Office as an economic spy for China, and was suspended as interim chair of the physics department where he worked. The government also searched and seized Professor Xi’s and his family’s private communications and personal property. When it became obvious that the accusations against him were baseless, the government dismissed the indictment.

Professor Xi and his family subsequently brought suit in federal district court against the government and several of the agents who took part in his investigation and arrest. The claims were brought under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution and under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The district court dismissed almost all of the claims, ruling that the law does not provide a remedy for the violation of Professor XI’s constitutional rights under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), that the claims were barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and that the discretionary functions exception barred the FTCA claims. Professor Xi and his family appealed, and the case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The brief joined by the AAUP provides relevant background information that will aid the court of appeals in reviewing Professor Xi’s case. The brief first explains how, for more than a decade, the FBI and other federal agencies have engaged in racially motivated persecution of Chinese American scientists and researchers. Playing a chief role in this regard is the federal government’s “China Initiative,” which has encouraged the racial profiling of individuals of Asian descent by US law enforcement agencies and promoted the baseless prosecution and harassment of Chinese American scientists. In addition, the brief describes how the government’s racial bias has placed increased pressure on American universities and academic institutions to report what had formerly been routine administrative issues as federal criminal conduct and to treat Asian American researchers and scientists with suspicion. The brief concludes by explaining that the government’s actions “further pernicious narratives of Asian-Americans as disloyal and perpetual foreigners,” which harms not just the targeted individuals but the Asian American community as a whole in profound ways, including by “deterring Chinese-Americans and immigrants from naturalizing, applying for federal grants, pursuing careers in STEM in the federal government, and working and studying in the U.S.”