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Texas move to shut out Chinese property buyers sparks backlash

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-01-25 17:38

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, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) 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 DPRK 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 that there are about half a million "green card" holders from China alone living 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 It was not completely repealed until 1968.

Wu said SB 147 is trying to break down very strong property protection rights specifically for people from the four countries. "It sends out a very dangerous message that everyone is equal except for these people," Wu said.

Wu said the bill is so broad and so little thought out. If a citizen spouse dies, property won't be handed over to the spouse of a green-card holder. The widow will be forced to sell any real property. Holders of green cards would be greatly handicapped in efforts to do business in Texas.

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 Bill 147 at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

State representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both Democrats, along with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Fort Bend County Judge KP George, officials and many civil rights activists have joined Wu to denounce SB 147 in the past days.

"I stand with the Asian community. I want to make sure we prevent this kind of atrocity from growing and becoming outsized in our country," Green told protesters outside city hall on Monday.

Alice Chen, a city council member of Stafford, said SB 147 need to be killed because it will have serious impact on lots of people. "Abbott wants to run for president in 2024 and he's trying to rally up his base. But he's using Chinese as the scapegoat for his political game."

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

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


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