February 3, 2023

Texas State Representative Gene Wu might have expected the Chinese New Year to end with celebrations of its cultural heritage. Instead, lawmakers this month have been busy defending the rights of their people and immigrants in the southern state.

It all started a week before the start of the Spring Festival celebrations. At the time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that he would sign legislation “to ban citizens, governments and entities of China, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia from buying land in Texas.”

State records show that the bill was introduced by Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst in November and received little public and media attention. The law, dubbed SB 147, if passed, would ban government agencies, corporations, citizens of China, Iran, DPRK and Russia from buying real estate in Texas.

Abbott’s tweet caught people’s attention, sending members of the Chinese community in Texas into a flurry of activity to protest the law. Heated debates erupted in social chat groups among Chinese Americans. While some people say the bill isn’t a big deal once you become a US citizen, others see it as China’s Exclusion Law 2.0.

According to Wu, SB 147 seeks to ban large swarms of immigrants from China and the other three countries, including legal permanent residents, from buying real estate in Texas. He said there are about half a million green card holders from China living in the United States alone.

“Following an unprecedented surge in hatred of Asia across the country, our communities continue to fight not only violence within our society, but also political persecution,” Wu said. “SB 147 is discriminatory, hateful, and painfully reminiscent of laws passed a hundred years ago that specifically prevented the Chinese from owning property, starting businesses, or even marrying the person they love.”

Wu was referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese immigrants from entering the United States and refused to grant citizenship to Chinese already living there. It was not fully repealed until 1968.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 a very dangerous message that everyone is equal except these people,” Wu said.

Wu said the bill is so comprehensive and so poorly thought out. If a citizen spouse dies, property does not pass to a green card holder’s spouse. The widow will be forced to sell real estate. Green card holders would be severely hampered in their efforts to do business in Texas.

Supporters of SB 147 say it was proposed with national security in mind. But Wu warned that Texas is just a testing ground for this type of bill. If passed, it is highly likely that many GOP-controlled states will follow suit.

On Wednesday, he was scheduled to hold a press 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 in denouncing SB 147 over the past few days.

“I stand with the Asian community. I want to make sure we prevent this type of atrocity from growing and outgrowing our country,” Green said Monday outside City Hall.

Alice Chen, a Stafford City Council member, said SB 147 must be killed because it will have a serious impact on many people. “Abbott is looking to run for president in 2024 and is trying to strengthen its base. But he uses Chinese as a scapegoat for his political game.”

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

“Politicians are playing politics and ignoring the significant contributions that immigrants make to this country,” Li said.

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