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The AAUP Joins Movement Seeking Justice For Professor Xiaoxing Xi

The American Association of University Professors has joined with the Asian American community and several civil rights groups in challenging the federal government’s racial profiling and surveillance of Asian American and Asian immigrant scientists and researchers—especially those of Chinese descent. On Monday February 14, seventy organizations, including the AAUP, joined an amicus brief filed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus in Xi v. Haugen, in the US Court of Appeals. The amicus brief addresses the FBI and other federal agencies’ history of engaging in racially motivated investigations and prosecutions of Asian American scientists and academics and the immense harm this discriminatory treatment causes individuals and Asian American communities throughout the United States.

“Professor Xi and his family deserve justice, as do all other victims of this discriminatory targeting. The courts must hold the US government accountable for its unconstitutional racial profiling and persecution of scientists and researchers of Asian descent,” said Risa Lieberwitz, general counsel for the AAUP.

Background: In 2015, Professor Xiaoxing Xi, a physics professor at Temple University and an internationally recognized expert in superconducting technology who emigrated from China over thirty years ago, 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 are not alone in suffering this baseless harassment based on systemic racism and anti-Asian hate. Many scientists and researchers of Asian descent are regularly treated with suspicion because of their ancestry and subjected to investigations, surveillance and prosecutions. Last week, 150 University of Pennsylvania faculty members signed an open letter to US attorney general Merrick Garland, urging the Department of Justice to overturn the “China Initiative,” instituted by the Trump administration and used as justification to target Chinese and Chinese American researchers without evidence of espionage. 
Professor Xi is currently suing the federal government and several of the agents who took part in his investigation and arrest. 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 and that the claims were barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Professor Xi and his family appealed, and the case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The amicus brief signed by the AAUP addresses the widespread prevalence of racial profiling and persecution by the FBI and other federal agencies against Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly scientists and academics of Chinese descent, over the last decade. 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.
Professor Xi and his family suffered immeasurable physical, emotional, and financial consequences as a result of these charges, and the government’s actions have affected the Asian American community as a whole in profound ways. Our hope is that this brief will aid the court of appeals in reviewing Professor Xi’s case and shed light on the urgent need to end this racial targeting so that future generations of Asian Americans will not be subjected to the same misguided suspicion and criminalization.

Read the full brief here.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, February 17, 2022