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Texas GOP lawmakers want to ban certain foreign citizens from buying property. Democrats push back.

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Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
/
KUT
State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, shows a photo of his childhood home during a press conference Wednesday where he denounced a series of bills that seek to ban citizens of China and three other countries from buying property in Texas.

A group of Texas Democrats have denounced bills they say are discriminatory and could negatively impact the state’s growing economy.

The bills, Senate Bill 147 and House Bill 1075, together would ban governments and citizens of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from buying property in the state.

State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said the pair of bills resembles those passed federally in the 1880s to alienate Asians, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“When this law says citizenship in another country, what they're talking about are people who have been waiting patiently in line, sometimes for decades, to become American citizens. This is who this bill is going after,” Wu told reporters Wednesday. “This is a story of citizenship that everyone in the Asian community understands and has experienced, whether themselves or their family.”

Wu and a group of Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight the bills before they move forward.

But the Republicans who support the measures say they are trying to protect Texas from foreign forces.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is the sponsor of SB 147, which would prohibit the citizens, governments and other entities from the four countries from acquiring property.

In a statement, Kolkhorst said her legislation “addresses a national security issue and will preserve our cherished private property rights and constitutional freedoms.”

The lawmaker didn’t indicate how much land in Texas is owned by foreign citizens.

“It does not prohibit foreign business investment in Texas, because companies may still do business by leasing land and buildings,” Kolkhorst said in her statement. “The bill will make crystal clear that the prohibitions do not apply to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.”

HB 1075 would ban all foreign governments or a company controlled by a foreign government from owning agricultural land in the state.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, told The Texas Newsroom in a statement Thursday the accusations that his bill was discriminatory were "baseless and pure political fear-mongering."

"With over 30 million people in Texas, we have a duty [to] ensure food security for future Texans and my bill does exactly that," Harris said.

It’s still too early in the legislative session to know whether the bills will pass. Republicans in the Legislature have coalesced behind the efforts.

In a tweet last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said he’d sign SB 147 if it got to his desk.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-Euless, said Abbott’s comments are worrisome.

Bhojani is a native of Pakistan and in November became one of two Muslims to ever be elected to the Texas Legislature.

He said the legislation could set a precedent.

“What starts in Texas changes the world," Bhojani said. "Where our Legislature goes, the entire country follows, which is why this legislation is so troubling."

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas Capitol Reporter for The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email him at smb@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel.
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