“My daughter said she always felt guilty in prison because she couldn’t fulfill the filial piety [virtue in Confucianism of respecting one’s elders and ancestors]. She doesn’t want to put a burden on the shoulders of her family,” said Susan Hou, mother of Jenny Hou, the treasurer of former City Comptroller John Liu’s 2013 mayoral campaign. Hou had served a 10-month prison sentence for violating a campaign finance law, and was immediately transferred to an immigration detention center. Her mother, with tears in her eyes, said at a press conference on Feb. 14 that a judge will decide whether to deport Hou on March 22. She asked people who know her daughter and the case to sign a plea letter to ask for leniency for her daughter.
Hou was involved in fundraising irregularities during John Liu’s campaign when she was the treasurer. She was sentenced to 10 months and was put in prison in December 2013 when she was only 27. She was released for some time during the appeal, but was sent back again last March when an appeals court upheld the conviction.
Her father Jianli Hou said that on the day last December when Jenny had finished serving her sentence, he thought he could pick her up at the gate of the prison and bring her back home. But she didn’t show up. The father only learned a few days later that she had been transferred to an immigration detention center. If the judge decides to deport Jenny back to China on March 22, she would be separated from her U.S. citizen parents and younger brother.
The father said at the press conference that he hopes the judge can give his young daughter a second chance, and not break up the family. He asked the Chinese community to sign the plea letter.
The letter was launched under the advice of Hou’s lawyer, and it may help persuade the judge to allow her to stay in this country with her family. A plea letter has to carry an original signature. And it has to be signed at one of the 35 designated entities around the city, collected by the designated coordinator at each entity to hand to the attorney. The deadline is Feb. 28. Any digital version, copy or letter that is sent to the judge individually is invalid.
Jianli shared Jenny’s story with the few dozen elected officials and community leaders who attended the press conference. He said his daughter lived with her grandparents in China until middle school when she came to the U.S. She has had a passion for public service the whole time. In February 2016, when the Chinese community rallied to help former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was facing a trial after accidentally shooting dead African American Akai Gurley, who was unarmed, during a patrol in a Brooklyn housing project, Hou rolled up her sleeves to participate. At the time she was out on bail and awaiting the appeal of her case. Before she was sent to prison after she lost the appeal, she met Liang and told him to be strong.
In prison, Hou taught a few dozen inmates math and management. The correction officers all gave her high remarks and said she was the best teacher in the prison. In her letters to her parents, Hou thanked her parents for helping her become an optimistic and grateful person.
Hou’s parents said their daughter had paid a lot for her mistake at such a young age. If she is allowed to come back to them, she will certainly keep contributing to society and be really grateful.
Council member Peter Koo attended the press conference to show his support for the Hou family, as did Rep. Grace Meng and State Assembly member Ron Kim. Close to 600 people have signed the plea letter in the three days since it was launched. Some of the 35 entities where you can get a copy and sign the letter include:
- Flushing Optical Inc.
- Maple Garden Restaurant (Flushing)
- World Chinese Netizen Association
- Sing Tao Daily office (Flushing)
- San King Association (Chinatown)
- Lin Sing Association (Chinatown)
- United Fujianese of America Association (Chinatown)
- Tsung Tsin Association (Chinatown)
- Park Asia Restaurant (Dyker Heights)
- Hot Pot 828 (Dyker Heights)
- Rice & Tea (Elmhurst)
- Uncle Zhou Restaurant (Elmhurst)