In response to the horrific attacks on Asian Americans across the country, the Biden administration announced a new initiative to fight anti-Asian violence, xenophobia and prejudice. Days later a federal court refused my family recourse for the anti-Asian violence and xenophobia that the Obama-Biden administration subjected us to years ago, when the Justice Department and the FBI falsely accused my father of sending sensitive technology to China and treated him like a Chinese spy.
Mainstream discourses on anti-Asian violence have often overlooked one simple fact: the same federal government that recently expressed sympathy for Asian-American communities has long perpetuated prejudice against our communities, and continues to do so.
As the country shifts from justified outrage to longer-term work to protect our communities, we also need to look at the bigger picture. To truly combat anti-Asian racism, it will be necessary to address the role of government in this area.
A permanent nightmare
In 2015, the FBI raided my family’s home one morning, woke us up at gunpoint, and dragged my father, Xiaoxing Xi, handcuffed in front of my mother, sister, and me. We were confused and terrified. Later, we found out that the Justice Department accused my father of illegally sending sensitive technology to China. They the threat with 80 years in prison and a $ 1 million fine.
After the Justice Department made public its charges against my father, newscasters surrounded our house and attempted to film through the windows to get a glimpse of our family. The FBI searched all of our belongings and took away electronic devices and documents containing many private details of our lives. For months we lived in fear of intimidation and FBI surveillance. We were concerned for our safety in public, as my father’s face was displayed all over the news. My father was unable to work and his reputation was shattered.
The government’s accusations were entirely false and based on emails about academic collaboration between my father and his colleagues that had nothing to do with the technology claimed by the government. Ultimately, the Ministry of Justice closed the case, but not before leaving us traumatized and faced with enormous legal costs. To this day, we bear many scars from our experience. The government has never explained why it has gone so badly.
These were anti-Asian acts on the part of the US government. My father, an American physics professor, is no spy. He doesn’t even work on sensitive research. Yet prosecutors recklessly accused him of crimes based on his Chinese heritage, as part of a larger effort to suppress China and its supposed spies. Without legitimate evidence, the government was able to deploy its powerful national security apparatus against us, including intrusive and covert surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In the process, it shocked a family. We filed a civil rights lawsuit to get some semblance of justice, but now our claims for damages were dismissed.
History of racial profiling
My father’s unfair prosecution was not an isolated incident, but one of several targeting Chinese-American scientists. People like Wen Ho Lee and Sherry Chen, among others, were portrayed as spies and saw their lives turned upside down, only to have their cases abandoned by the government.
Under Donald Trump, this problem has become more pernicious. FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly doubled down, branding students and researchers of Chinese descent as potential spies and saying the FBI considers China “not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat”, Demanding a“ response from the whole of society. ” Trump’s Justice Department launched the Chinese initiative in 2018 to target these supposed spies. Many other people and families have already been affected.
The Biden administration continued with this initiative, despite calls from civil rights groups to end it.
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While there are legitimate concerns about the Chinese government, there is a major human cost in casting suspicion on entire communities on the basis of national origin. The FBI’s record of racial, ethnic and religious profiling has left a devastating mark, especially in Muslim, Black and Indigenous communities. As anti-Asian – particularly anti-China – feelings and prejudices continue to grow, I fear the US government will put many more people through what my family has done, especially if there is no opportunity to challenge government wrongdoing in front of courts.
The fact that the government has made the scapegoats of people like my father is part of a larger story of anti-Asian violence and xenophobia. Asian communities in America have long been viewed as perpetual outsiders and threats to national security, dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1917, which has barred people from China and the Asia-Pacific region from immigrating to the United States for decades.
During World War II, the government sadly incarcerated 120,000 Americans of Japanese origin in the name of national security. The United States has encouraged wars and militarization in places like the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which have dehumanized Asians in the public imagination and which have killed, traumatized and displaced many people. .
Now the US government expels Southeast Asian refugees who fled these wars. After September 11, law enforcement significantly expanded their surveillance, harassment and criminalization of Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities, discriminating against them in the name of national security. And when COVID-19 hit, Trump resorted to blatant racism, calling it the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu”.
In this context, countless Asians in America have been victims of violence and vitriol. The recent anti-Asian attacks have various causes, but with the government’s xenophobic actions and rhetoric, it is no surprise that these assaults on our communities have been rampant.
Like many, I worry about myself, my friends and my family in the midst of these hyper-visible attacks. But I am not reassured that the federal government is saying it will protect Asian Americans by increasing the power of the very agencies that have helped create conditions conducive to violence. To meaningfully tackle anti-Asian violence, the US government must end its own racist policies and be accountable for past wrongdoing. And my family will appeal the rejection of our claims by the court. We will continue to fight to end racialized targeting of our communities.
Joyce Xi is the daughter of Xiaoxing Xi, a Chinese-American scientist who has been unfairly prosecuted by the US government.