Determined Sherry Chen Continues Quest for Justice
On May 23, 2018, the Committee of 100 (C100), along with United Chinese Americans and the Ohio Chinese American Association, organized a press conference on Capitol Hill for award winning Chinese American hydrologist Sherry Chen in her continuing quest to be reinstated to her job at the National Weather Service (NWS) after being falsely accused of espionage. Sherry Chen and her attorney Steve Simon expressed their determination to continue their quest for justice in the press conference. Also participating were members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), including Chair Rep. Judy Chu, and Representatives Ted Lieu, Grace Meng and Raja Krishnamoorthi. Dr. Xiaoxing Xi, physics professor at Temple University who was also wrongfully targeted for prosecution in a separate case, traveled from Philadelphia to lend his support. Aryani Ong moderated for the Asian Pacific American Justice Task Force.
Sherry Chen had been fired by the Department of Commerce in 2016 after being falsely accused of espionage in 2014, only to have all charges dropped prior to trial in 2015. Undaunted, Chen appealed her firing to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MPSB) in 2016 and won. In the 135-page decision the Chief Administrative Judge Michele Schroeder ruled that Sherry Chen was a “victim of gross injustice” and that the Commerce Department had at multiple levels starting from the top officials ignored or manipulated exculpatory evidence regarding Chen’s conduct. The judge ordered the NWS to restore Chen’s position and provide back pay and benefits.
C100 member Dr. Jeremy Wu notes that it is highly unusual for federal employees to win cases before the MSPB. “According to MSPB reports, between 2012 and 2017, the average “success” rate of the number of reversals of original agency actions is only 1.6% of the 70,000 total decisions made,” Wu said.
After the MSPB decision, Chen spoke publicly for the first time at a May 3 press conference at the Committee of 100’s Annual Conference. She said, “As a public servant, I have made my contributions to this country. I have been an innocent American and law-abiding citizen. However, my life has been upside down twice by our government for doing nothing wrong. I am glad [to] receive the court’s favorable ruling.”
A month after the MSPB decision, Chen has yet to be restored to her job. The Department of Commerce plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.
At the May 23 Capitol Hill press conference, CAPAC released a letter signed by 31 members of Congress requesting the Commerce Inspector General conduct an independent investigation into the mishandling of Sherry Chen’s case. “No federal government employee who has been proven to be wrongfully terminated should have to fight so hard to be re-instated,” Congresswoman Grace Meng noted, “The facts are crystal clear. This is wrong.” Congressman Ted Lieu spoke for all when he called on the Department of Commerce to “apologize, not appeal.” Asian American community organizations also released a letter, signed by 132 national and local groups, calling on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reinstate Chen and facilitate the probe.
Speakers at the press conference noted that Chen’s case follows the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Wen Ho Lee case of twenty years ago, and multiple other contemporary instances where it appears the government has used racial profiling to target Asian Americans, especially researchers, scientists and others in the “STEM” fields. In 2017, C100 published a white paper by Andrew Kim that pointed to greater bias against Asians in espionage prosecution and sentencing under the Economic Espionage Act. Recent comments by leading officials such as FBI Director Christopher Wray suggesting that all Chinese professors, students, and scientists studying and working in the U.S may be spies for the Chinese government appear to confirm this bias.
C100, a non-profit organization, has supported Sherry Chen since the early days of her case, and continues to do so through its Legal Defense and Education Fund. At a Capitol Hill press conference in May 2015, less than two weeks after the New York Times broke the Sherry Chen story, C100 issued a statement supporting congressional inquiries into Chen’s case, and subsequently led a coalition of six national Asian Pacific American organizations in issuing a joint letter to the Attorney General expressing concerns of racial profiling towards Asian Americans. At its national conference in Los Angeles two years ago and in Silicon Valley in early May, Chen received standing ovations from standing-room only crowds.
C100 also continues to lead in advocating for the full inclusion of Chinese Americans in American society. In response to Director Wray’s comments, C100 and 13 other Asian American organizations issued a statement asking for a meeting with Wray. Recently C100 members also met with FBI officials in Los Angeles and Northern California to convey concerns about broad brush stereotyping and discrimination, and emphasized, instead, the many positive contributions of Chinese Americans throughout history. “When we stand up and speak out, we’re doing so as Americans,” C100 President Frank H. Wu noted. “This case, these cases, will be remembered as the time we [Asian Americans] stood up, and spoke up and people had to listen.”
Photo credit: Asian American News Bureau