A Dialogue between Academic and Asian American Communities and the FBI

By Joel Wong

A collaborative effort by the Texas Multicultural Advocacy Coalition, Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, and the APA Justice Task Force convened a forum on June 6, 2024. Held at Rice University’s O’Connor Building, the event (also accessible virtually) brought together academics, Asian-American leaders, and the FBI to discuss a critical topic: balancing research security with civil liberties.

Key Points:

  • The event aimed to bridge the gap between the FBI and Asian-American academics regarding research security policies.
  • Concerns were raised about the impact of past initiatives, particularly the China Initiative, on Asian-American researchers.
  • The FBI emphasized its commitment to safeguarding national security while protecting civil liberties.
  • Recommendations included creating more transparent, data-driven, and inclusive policies.
  • Continuous dialogue and collaboration were highlighted as essential for all stakeholders.

Examples of Overreach:

  • The China Initiative was cited for unfairly targeting Asian-American scholars.
  • Attendees shared experiences of foreign researchers facing difficulties at U.S. ports of entry.
  • Historical examples, like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, served as a reminder of the importance of avoiding discriminatory policies.
  • Recent legislation, such as Texas’ Senate Bill 147 (restricting property purchases by certain nationalities), was discussed as an example of overreach.
  • Concerns regarding invasive electronic device searches at the border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) were also addressed.

Building Trust: Recommendations and Solutions

The event explored solutions to build trust and address concerns about government overreach:

  • Transparency and Clarity: Policies should be clear and easy to understand to ensure compliance and build trust.
  • Improved Communication and Training: Regular dialogues and open communication channels are essential.
  • Involving Experts: Scientific and community expertise should be incorporated into policy making.
  • Protecting Civil Liberties and Academic Freedom: These fundamental rights must be safeguarded in research policies.
  • Enhanced Inter-Agency Coordination: Standardization of practices across federal agencies is crucial.
  • Mechanisms for Redress: Clear avenues for individuals to seek redress if they feel unfairly targeted.
  • Public Leadership and Advocacy: Leaders should publicly oppose discriminatory policies.

The event served as a reminder of the U.S.’s long history of benefiting from top international scholars. It emphasized the importance of maintaining this momentum through open communication and collaborative efforts.


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