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Move to shut out property buyers sparks backlash

By May Zhou in Houston | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-26 07:59

Texas State Representative Gene Wu could have expected Chinese New Year to pass with celebrations of his cultural heritage. Instead, this month the lawmaker has been kept busy defending the rights of his people and immigrants in the southern state.

It all started a week before the Spring Festival celebrations got underway. That's when Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that he would sign a bill "to ban citizens, governments & entities of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from purchasing land in Texas".

State records show that the bill was filed in November by Republican State Senator Lois Kolkhorst and got little notice by the public and media. The bill, called SB 147, if passed, would ban government entities, companies, citizens of China, Iran, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Russia from purchasing property in Texas.

Abbott's tweet got people's attention and sent members of the Chinese community in Texas into a flurry of activities protesting the bill. Heated debates erupted in social chat groups among Chinese Americans. While some people say that the bill is not a big deal if one becomes a US citizen, others see this as the Chinese Exclusion Act 2.0.

To Wu, SB 147 attempts to ban large swathes of immigrants from China and the other three countries, including lawful permanent residents, from buying property in Texas. He said there are about half a million "green card" holders from China alone in the United States.

"After an unprecedented rise in anti-Asian hate around the nation,our communities continue to struggle against not only violence within our society, but with political persecution as well," Wu said. "SB 147 is discriminatory, hateful,and brings back painful reminders of laws passed a hundred years ago that specifically prevented Chinese individuals from owning property,starting businesses, or even marrying the person they love."

Wu was referring the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which denied Chinese immigrants from entering the US and refused to grant Chinese already there citizenship. It was not completely repealed until 1968.

Supporters of SB 147 say that it's proposed in consideration of national security. But Wu warned that Texas is only a test ground for this type of bill. If passed, it's very likely that many GOP-controlled states will follow suit.

On Wednesday, he was scheduled to hold a news conference to denounce SB 147 in Austin.

Kenneth Li, president of the Asian American Business Council and a real estate broker, said that SB 147 violates the Texas Fair Housing Act.

"The politicians play politics and ignore immigrants' significant contributions to this country," Li said.

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