Rep. Chu on Senate Hearing on Chinese Students

June 6, 2018 Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration held a hearing on “Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security.” When first announced, the hearing was originally called “A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit U.S. Academia,” which revealed the hearing’s attempt to paint all Chinese students, scholars, and employees en masse as potential spies for China. This follows February testimony by FBI Director Christopher Wray that the threat from Chinese students requires a “whole of society response by us.” Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, was invited by Ranking Member Senator Durbin to testify about the concerns from the Chinese-American community that this kind of rhetoric will lead to increased prejudice and discrimination, but for the first time in two-decades of the subcommittee, Chairman John Cornyn took the rare step of refusing a member’s request to testify. Instead, Rep. Chu submitted testimony, which is included below:

Thank you Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein, Subcommittee Chairman Cornyn Subcommittee Ranking Member Durbin, and other esteemed Members of the Committee for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record.  I especially want to thank Subcommittee Ranking Member Durbin for inviting me to attend today’s hearing and ensuring that balanced viewpoints are shared.

Since its inception, our country has prided itself on being a land of opportunity where people from all over the world can come to pursue better lives for themselves and their families.  As a result, our nation attracts the best and brightest talent and has historically been the top destination for international students due to the caliber of our nation’s higher education institutions.  In the 2016- 2017 school year alone, 1,079,000 foreign students enrolled in a U.S. higher education institution with students from China representing the top origin country, accounting for 33 percent of the total international student population in the U.S.  In addition, 48 percent of international students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields.[1]  These students contribute to new technological developments, research, and advancements, and they help to support the U.S. economy.  According to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students studying in U.S. colleges and universities contributed $36.9 billion and supported more than 450,000 jobs in the 2016-2017 academic school year alone.[2]

However, ideological divisions in our country are causing attacks on immigrant communities and certain visa holders who are under heightened scrutiny due to national security concerns, including fears of espionage from foreign countries.  In particular, scrutiny sharply increased for Chinese nationals applying for student and employment visas to pursue opportunities in STEM fields.  In fact, I would like to note that the name of this hearing as noticed on May 30, 2018 was, “A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit U.S. Academia.”  While there is no doubt that we must take national security threats from foreign countries seriously, these efforts to single out Chinese students and employees wrongfully assume that there is widespread abuse of our visa program from China alone, and attempts to paint all Chinese students, scholars, and employees en masse as potential spies for China.  While the title of this hearing has since been changed to a less offensive name – make no mistake – this hearing is yet another example of an effort to build a specific case against law abiding visa holders and to fuel the dangerous narrative that students from China should be viewed with more scrutiny than those from other countries.

Unfortunately, we have seen the damaging impact of these overly broad mischaracterizations throughout our nation’s history.  For example, it wasn’t too long ago that 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes, rounded up, and incarcerated during World War II on no basis other than their race.  These were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children.  And it didn’t matter that they were American citizens.  In the eyes of our government, they were potential spies, outsiders, and enemies.  Yet over 70 years later, not a single case of espionage has ever been proven.

We saw these dangerous stereotypes play out again over 20 years ago with the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, a U.S. citizen and a nuclear scientist at a laboratory in New Mexico.  In 1996, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started an investigation against him based on suspicions of espionage believing that he was a spy for China.  Three years later in 1999, he was indicted on 59 charges for mishandling national security information.  He was denied bail, placed in solitary confinement, and imprisoned for over 200 days.  After a haphazard five-year investigation, all but one of the charges against him were dropped.  When the court dismissed the charges, the judge apologized to Wen Ho Lee, citing many mishandled issues by the government investigators in his case.

Even more recently, we have seen how this blanket stereotyping impacted two prominent Chinese American scientists – Sherry Chen and Dr. Xioaxing Xi – American citizens who were wrongfully accused of espionage by the FBI only to have their charges dropped with no explanation.  In 2014, Ms. Chen was arrested by FBI agents in her office, handcuffed in front of her own coworkers, and later fired from her position as a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.  Dr. Xi, a Temple University professor, was woken up at dawn to a dozen armed FBI agents, handcuffing him in front of his wife and two daughters, and arresting him in front of his neighbors.  In both of these cases, the Department of Justice later dropped their charges without any explanation.  But the damage was already done.  And both Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi endured significant damage to their reputations, their careers, their finances, and their lives as a result.

No American should have to live in fear that their entire lives may be turned upside down due to wrongful accusations and unwarranted racial profiling.  Unfortunately, this is now a common fear for many Chinese American scientists, engineers, and researchers who believe that they may be targeted next due to reckless comments made by FBI Director Wray singling out Chinese students and scholars as a worldwide security threat that requires a “whole of society response by us”[3] and subsequent actions taken by the U.S. Congress to further fuel this narrative.

There is no question that we must fight against economic espionage and threats to American innovation and security.  But in this process, we must not ensnare innocent individuals or let the fear of espionage compromise our fundamental values of liberty, due process, and equality.  It is dangerous to categorize an entire country of people as a threat to our national security, and I urge you to reject these overly broad and xenophobic attempts to build a case that Chinese students and employees should be viewed with more suspicion than others.  This Committee should not condone profiling that encourages individuals to view all Chinese and Chinese Americans as potential national security threats.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit a statement and to ensure that the record reflects strong opposition to any attempt to target Chinese students and scholars en masse through racially motivated fears.  Instead, I urge the Committee to address genuine solutions to tackling espionage threats to our nation rather than operating under the assumption that simply being Chinese makes one a unique national security threat.  There is no room for this sort of prejudice in our country’s laws or practices.

[1] Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, Migration Policy Institute, “International Students in the United States,” May 9, 2018, available athttps://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/international-students-united-states

[2] NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool available athttp://www.nafsa.org/Policy_and_Advocacy/Policy_Resources/Policy_Trends_and_Data/NAFSA_International_Student_Economic_Value_Tool/

[3] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing on Worldwide Threats, 115th Congress, available athttps://www.intelligence.senate.gov/hearings/open-hearing-worldwide-threats-hearing-1

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