Economy

Texas bill would ban nationals from 4 countries from buying land

A proposed Texas bill prohibits land sales to entities and individuals with ties to North Korea, Russia, China and Iran.

Texas bill would ban nationals from 4 countries from buying land
David J. Phillip / AP
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Almost 30 million people live in Texas. U.S. Census data says more than 5% are Asian — many of them Chinese American or Chinese. 

Houston’s Chinatown bustles with business and signs of immigrant investment in property.  But a proposed state law may pose a major roadbloack — especially for Chinese nationals. 

People like Kevin Yu, a real estate broker whose main clients are Chinese immigrants.

"The American dream has a lot of parts, one part is to own your home," Yu said.   

Yu is a permanent resident who came from mainland China more than 10 years ago to study in the U.S. He stayed, and now he’s a successful entrepreneur.

"And 90% of our buyers are Chinese Americans or Chinese, they can be citizens, or new immigrants working towards their citizenship," he said. 

And like many others in the Chinese immigrant and Chinese American community he’s upset about Texas Senate Bill 147. 

"It could destroy my business," he said. 

The bill bans foreign states and companies from owning Texas land, and also bans real state sales to people from four specific countries: China, Iran, North Korea or Russia.

Texas Democratic state Rep. Gene Wu, whose Houston district has big Asian communities, says the bill is rooted in xenophobia.

"This is especially painful for the Asian-American community because we have been down this road before. We've already done all these things. We've already suffered through. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883," Wu said. 

"My family saved up money. They worked hard and they bought this tiny little house in my district for $40,000," Yu said. 

The bill’s sponsor says the proposal piggy-backs on a legislation already passed — that it’s about national security and making sure foreign actors can’t buy land next to critical infrastructure. 

While declining to appear on camera, Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst said in a written statement: "SB 147 will make crystal clear that the prohibitions do not apply to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents." 

But as it stands the bill’s language does not make that exception. And Wu added that even if the language is changed the bill creates a less than equal class of Texan. 

"And until the day that you are sworn in, but you take the oath to swear to defend this country and the Constitution, the United States as an American citizen, you are a citizen of a foreign nation. I want to be clear about that," Wu said. 

Yu says he wants to become a U.S. citizen and the bill is a potential obstacle to his American dream.

"The worst part that I fear the most, is that this will stop Chinese people from coming to Texas at all," he said. 

The governor of Texas has said if the bill reaches his desk that he will sign it. The biggest realtors association in Texas says it’s monitoring the progress of the bill and that its members have voiced their concerns.

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