Politicians and community leaders on Wednesday called for an independent investigation into the dismissal of a Chinese-American scientist working for the federal government, with some alleging that the termination was linked to the scientist’s race.
In a letter to Department of Commerce Inspector General Peggy Gustafson, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) requested the investigation into the 2016 dismissal of Xiafen "Sherry" Chen, a hydrologist for the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration, who was arrested for alleged espionage in 2014.
The federal charges against her were dropped in 2015, but Chen was terminated from her job the following year.
“We are doing this because we will not tolerate Chinese Americans or Asian Americans being treated as second-class citizens. 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," said CAPAC chair Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
"I'm horrified by the outrageous misconduct of multiple DOC officials,” Chen said at Wednesday's conference. "No one in the management who handled my case stood up ... or even questioned the scandalous activities during the entire process.”
A Commerce spokesperson said by email that the department is appealing the decision, but did not address a possible internal investigation or allegations that Chen’s race played a part in her dismissal.
"Twenty-five years ago, this wouldn't have happened,” Frank Wu, executive director of the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American leadership group, said of the community response. “During World War II, when Japanese Americans were interned, imprisoned ... this wouldn't have happened, but today is our moment."
“This case, these cases together, will be remembered as when we stood up, spoke out,” he added. “And people will have to listen.”