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Texas legislature takes up anti-Asian bills

Laws would ban citizens from select countries from owning land, attending colleges in Texas

Sunita Sohrabji

The Texas state Legislature is considering four bills, three which would prevent citizens from China, North Korea, Iran and Russia from buying homes and agricultural land in the state, and the fourth, which bans citizens of those countries from enrolling in the state’s colleges and universities.

The bills are being promoted under the guise of “securing national interests,” say opponents of the measures.

John Yang, President of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, told Ethnic Media Services: “These bills are just another attempt to take real issues and make them into cheap ploys to gain national publicity. Why should state legislatures concern themselves with complex U.S. foreign policy?”

“This is a clear design to inflame Texans against these countries and to promote vigilante justice,” he said. “We need to have smart, serious conversations, not demonize entire communities for so-called national security issues.”

Banned from higher ed

HB 4736 was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives March 10 by Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican. The bill would prevent citizens from China, North Korea, Iran and Russia — as well as undocumented students — from enrolling in higher education. The legislation would apply to American students who reside in the U.S. but are still citizens of those four countries. It is unclear whether DREAMers would also be impacted by the proposed legislation.

Tinderholt has not publicly commented on his bill.

Students from China comprise the largest number of foreign students. For academic year 2021-2022, almost 291,000 students from China were admitted at US universities, 30 percent of the total foreign students pool that year, according to Open Doors Data. Texas is the fourth most popular state for international students, according to the report.

“This bill will hurt American universities. We have always welcomed students from other countries,” said Yang.

A new ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’

Also at stake are the trio of bills relating to the purchase and ownership of homes and agricultural land by citizens of China, North Korea, Iran and Russia. Critics of the proposed measures have compared it to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The most-discussed bill is SB 147 by Texas state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, which — in its initial version — would have banned citizens of those four countries from buying real estate, even those who were long-time residents of the U.S. The Republican Senator has since modified the bill, after a volley of backlash, but critics say it is still racist.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said he would sign SB 147. Texas Realtors, a professional organization with more than 135,000 members, has stated its opposition.

The National Iranian American Council has also stated its opposition. “Make no mistake, this is a racist stunt, but with a real chance for passage,” said NIAC President Jamal Abdi. “The proposed policy threatens serious harm and is a slippery slope toward more discriminatory acts against our community.”

Abdi noted that federal law already bars members of the Islamic Republic or anyone in Iran’s government from
property ownership.

Kolkhorst, a Republican, said in a statement defending her bill: “One of the top concerns for many Texans is national security and the growing ownership of Texas land by certain adversarial foreign entities.”

All communities impacted

SB 552, introduced by Texas state Senator Donna Campbell, would ban companies based in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran from buying agricultural land. “Proud to file SB 552 today to protect Texas agricultural land from hostile foreign nations,” said Campbell in a tweet.

“Due to their hostile acts and nefarious intentions against our society, China, Iran, North Korea and Russia must be banned from all aspects of Texas’ critical infrastructure,” she said.

The most over-reaching bill of the three is SB 711, introduced by Texas state Senator Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock. Perry’s bill would require buyers to prove they were not “prohibited foreign actors” from countries identified as hostile to U.S. interests. Buyers from those countries would be required to provide sellers with a note within 10 days of a sale; sellers could then withdraw the sale.

“I trust the American patriot to make the right decision if they know the buyer may be from one of our enemies. That is the definition of patriotism,” said Perry, who has also exhorted Texans to quit buying “cheap products from China.”

Perry’s bill is vague in its definition of a “prohibited foreign actor,” and could reach well beyond the four countries banned by SB 147 and SB 522.

At a Feb. 11 rally decrying SB 147, Texas state Rep. Gene Wu stated: “My parents bought a $60,000 house in Houston in 1986 while we were still on the path to citizenship. That would not be allowed under this bill. But what does buying a house, or a noodle shop, have to do with national security?”

On a March 13 podcast hosted by the Asian American Unity Coalition, Alice Yi, senior strategy consultant for Asian Texans for Justice recalled her own pastoral background. “I used to raise cattle and goats on my land. It was just my business, not a national security threat,” she said before tying SB 147 to the wave of “anti-Asian hatred” that has proliferated in recent years.

“People cannot easily distinguish Chinese people from other Asians, Yi added. “We are all going to have to prove we are eligible to buy a home. Even our children will have to prove their eligibility.”

Ethnic Media Services