Fight continues against SB 147, bill prohibiting citizens from 4 countries from buying land in Texas

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023
SB 147: Communities worry about being restricted from buying land
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The fight continues against Senate Bill 147, which would prohibit citizens, companies, governments, and entities from China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia from purchasing land in T

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The fight continues against Senate Bill 147, which would prohibit citizens, companies, governments, and entities from China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia from purchasing land in Texas.

Nearly 200 people, including elected officials, advocates, and community members, gathered Monday afternoon at Houston City Hall for a rally in opposition of the bill, just three days after a similar event was held in Fort Bend County.

Kevin Yu and his wife, Claire Liang, were in attendance. Both have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years. They expressed concerns about how Yu and Liang's mother would be impacted if the bill were to pass, considering both are green card holders.

"We love America. We came here to be part of the American dream. But this will stop me from buying any property in the future, whether it's my home or expanding my business," Yu said.

"My mother is 72 years old and currently lives with me. She still works very hard and pays taxes. She plans to retire next year. But she wouldn't be able to purchase a house on her own under this bill. It would hurt our family, who is trying to make our American dream come true," Liang said.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who authored the bill, has declined multiple requests for interviews about SB 147. Her staff has directed ABC13 back to a statement that reads in part, "This bill addresses a national security issue and will preserve our cherished private property rights and constitutional freedoms. It does not prohibit foreign business investments in Texas, because companies may still do business by leasing land and buildings."

It goes to say, "The bill will make crystal clear that the prohibitions do not apply to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents."

However, immigration attorney Charles Foster pointed out the legislation does not include language that specifies the exclusion of permanent residents. He explained that individuals who have dual citizenship in one of the four listed countries would also be subject to the terms of SB 147.

"That means a person that had been here as a legal resident for 20 years from one of those countries would still be barred. It would mean that all of the doctors and health professionals in the Texas Medical Center that are here on work visas would also be barred," Foster said.

Rice University Professor Mark Jones, who teaches political science, said that clarification would likely be added later in committee and the bill would be more narrowly tailored to government entities and businesses if it advances. He believes this bill is designed moreso to be symbolic, not so much to be enacted in policy.

He explained the purpose of the bill is likely to send a message to conservative primary voters that Republican lawmakers "take seriously the threat that China represents to U.S. national security." It also signals to the Chinese government that Republicans "view them as an enemy and someone to be watched and monitored."

"There is a belief among many Republicans that China represents an existential threat, and therefore, it's incumbent upon legislators in their eyes, both at the state and federal level, to pass legislation to restrict Chinese activities here in the U.S. We also see other countries added on that are widely viewed as enemies of the United States," Jones said.

But if it passes, Jones expects the bill to be challenged constitutionally. Either way, elected officials and advocates in opposition of the bill expressed concerns that this legislation could further perpetuate anti-Asian hate during an already vulnerable time for Asian communities. They worry it could also disenfranchise immigrants, business owners, and green card holders.

"When those people come, they bring their language, their customs, and their cultures. They do not bear the responsibility of the choices made by their native government. In fact, the policies of those governments may be the very reason why they have come to this country in the first place," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

State Rep. Gene Wu shared a photo of his childhood home at the Monday rally and explained that his parents would have been prohibited from purchasing the $40,000 house under the terms of SB 147.

"What did they do to offend you? What did they do to harm our state? What did they do other than work hard, pay taxes, and do what we expect of them?" said Wu, whose Houston district covers Sharpstown, Gulfton, and parts of Asia Town.

Yu and Liang said if this bill passes, they would consider moving to a different state. They want the public to know that all they desire is the opportunity to thrive in their new home.

"A lot of people don't quite understand that there is a huge difference between people and government. I didn't choose China when I was born. But I chose to come to America and become an American," Yu said. "I just want people to know that we are hardworking people. We are not evil people. We love this country."

Foster said if SB 147 were to pass, it wouldn't apply to individuals or entities that already own land in Texas as its enactment date would begin in September of this year. Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted last week that he would sign the bill if it makes it all the way to his desk.

As of Monday evening, the legislation has yet to move to committee.

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