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Senate Bills Threaten Texas Real-Estate Market

Ban on foreign ownership of Texas property would harm immigrants seeking to achieve the American Dream.

Senate Bill 147, which the Texas Legislature will consider this session (and which Governor Greg Abbott supports), would ban citizens and corporations from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea from buying property in Texas. The bill is sponsored by State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, an anti-vaxxer and sponsor of a “bathroom bill” in 2017 that targeted LGBTQ individuals and won her a spot on Texas Monthly’s Worst Legislators list that year. Critics have called SB 147 discriminatory and potentially harmful to Texas’ economy. Another bill, SB 522 authored by State Representative Donna Campbell, would ban companies from those countries from buying agricultural land in Texas. 

Referring to the Chinese purchase of the land near an Air Force base near Del Rio for a proposed wind farm, Senator Kolkhorst wrote in a statement that “one of the top concerns for many Texans is national security and the growing ownership of Texas land by certain adversarial foreign entities.” She later said she would clarify the bill’s language to reflect that legal U.S. citizens and permanent residents could purchase land.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, and State Rep. Gene Wu (Photos by Gene Wu/Facebook)

Sadly, Texas is among 11 states that are considering similar laws relating to foreign ownership of farmland or real estate.

The Asian American Leadership Council (AALC) and Texas State Representative Gene Wu organized a march in Houston Chinatown on February 11, where over 30 community organizations protested these bills that they claim would prevent immigrants from achieving the American Dream.

”…what does buying a house, or a noodle shop, have to do with national security?”—State Rep. Gene Wu  

“My parents bought a $60,000 house in Houston in 1986,” says Rep. Wu, “while we were still on the path to citizenship. That would not be allowed under this bill. But what does buying a house, or a noodle shop, have to do with national security?

In fact, Rep. Wu voted for Texas SB 2116 in 2021 which prevents those same four countries from entering into contracts or agreements involving critical infrastructure in Texas.

But, he says, these 2023 bills are different. “Why stop these people from achieving the American Dream?” asks Rep. Wu. “It’s dangerous to the community in the message it sends. It perpetuates the myth that we can never be truly American—that we are suspect somehow.”

Texas Realtors, which is the largest professional association in Texas with more than 135,000 members, has been closely monitoring these two bills. 

“Our members have concerns about the impact of this proposed legislation, and the association is discussing those concerns with its membership, bill authors, and other stakeholders,” says Tray Bates, the organization’s vice president of governmental affairs. 

“From an economic standpoint, Texas is constantly competing with other states for manufacturing and refineries,” adds Rep. Wu. “Houston has real-estate agencies devoted to helping foreign natives to buying homes here. What does this bill say? Is Texas really ‘open for business’? Yet you can’t buy property here?”

As for the constitutionality of such bills, Rep. Wu is clear. “In the 1800’s there were laws passed to prohibit the Chinese from owning property,” Rep Wu explains. . “Known as Alien Land Laws, and then there was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Those laws were stuck down for being unconstitutional. Even in the 1960s, Texas tried to ban Chinese Americans from owning grocery stores.” That bill didn’t pass.

“When you treat people from different nationalities different, it’s unconstitutional,” adds Rep. Wu. “And national security is not a state’s rights issue. People with an international heritage shouldn’t be held accountable for their nations’ actions. All this does is create fear and feed into intrinsic biases.”


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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