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RACE

The Lee Case Shakes Asian Americans' Faith in Justice System

September 24, 2000|Xiao-huang Yin | Xiao-huang Yin, chairperson of the American Studies Program at Occidental College, is author of "Chinese American Literature since the 1850s."

To a greater degree, the government's doubts about Lee's loyalty because of his "foreign connections" may have undermined the confidence of many immigrant scientists working in the United States. Throughout its history, the U.S. has benefited from other countries' "brain drain." Currently, between 30% and 50% of professionals holding science and engineering doctorates in this country were born overseas. But if Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in America since the 1960s, can be singled out because of his "alien" background, what about newly arrived immigrants?

In this sense, the Lee case transcends the Asian American experience: U.S. rivals may exploit immigrant fears of working in the United States as scientists with national-security interests. For example, a Russian nuclear scientist unemployed in his homeland may prefer the anonymity of working in a "rogue state" to the risk of harassment in the U.S. because of his ethnic background. The comments, made 40 years ago, of Theodore von Karman, an immigrant and pioneer in the U.S. missile industry, on the case of Qian Xuesen (H.S. Tien), a Chinese rocket scientist who was persecuted during the McCarthy era because of his alleged "Chinese connections," are apropos: "[What happened to Qian] holds important lessons for all of us on the problems of science and politics and simple human justice."

Because the Lee case has rocked the faith of many Asian American scientists in the U.S. justice system, there is an urgent need to restore their confidence in government. The 80-20 Initiative, one of the largest Asian American political organizations, is mounting a nationwide campaign to petition President Bill Clinton to grant Lee a full pardon. A victim of racial profiling, Lee deserves a pardon. More significantly, a presidential pardon could help restore the confidence of not only Asian American scientists, but also of many immigrant scientists in the fairness of the U.S. justice system.

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