Ban on Chinese citizens, others owning property in Texas gets initial approval in Senate

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) inside the Texas Capitol on Jan. 26, 2023, for a news conference denouncing a Senate bill that has been filed that would prohibit citizens from China and three other countries from buying land in Texas. (The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

AUSTIN -- Many citizens of China couldn't own large properties in Texas under a bill the state Senate gave its initial approval to Tuesday.

The bill has been decried as racist and faced widespread condemnation from Asian American Texans, as well as residents from Iran, Russia and countries also targeted in the ban. Senators approved the proposal from Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst on party lines.

It would prohibit citizens of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from buying large swaths of land in Texas with some exceptions, using a threat assessment report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as the basis for the ban.

Several Chinese Americans in North Texas who voiced opposition to the bill said they intend to continue fighting against legislation.

"This is discrimination against Chinese Americans," said Jian Xie, a member of multiple North Texas organizations with ties to the Asian and Chinese American communities, including the Asian Culture And Education Society USA. "We're going to continue calling members of the House of Representatives to express our concerns because this is unconstitutional."

The bill needs one more vote in the Senate before it heads to the House for consideration. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The proposed law emerged after reports surfaced that a Chinese firm purchased land near Laughlin Air Force Base in Val Verde County. It builds on a law adopted in 2021 that banned companies based in China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from owning critical infrastructure in Texas.

"They are enemies of the United States and are enemies of Texas, and they have realized that frankly, at the end of the day, they can be more successful at hurting this country and hurting this great state through economic means than through the battlefield," Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said on the Senate floor.

The bill initially banned all citizens of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from owning property in Texas, with exceptions for dual citizens. Kolkhorst later softened it to give exceptions for legal permanent residents and homesteads purchased by citizens of those nations.

The bill approved Tuesday now places no prohibitions on acquiring residential or commercial property.

"To be clear, people fleeing adversarial nations can purchase shopping centers, restaurants, car washes, and other businesses to pursue the American dream under" the bill, Kolkhorst said in a statement. "Additionally, the bill preserves the homestead exemption, so those same folks fleeing totalitarian regimes can purchase a rural residence of up to 20 acres of agricultural land."

But even as Kolkhorst attempted to allay fears of banning large swaths of immigrants from owning small businesses or investment homes, Sen. Charles Whitmire, D-Houston, said the damage to Asian Americans in Texas was done.

"You've already impacted them," Whitmire said in an exchange with Kolkhrost. "They're scared to death of you. They're scared to death of this legislation."

Some legal experts have raised questions about the constitutionality of the proposal, which appears to contravene state and federal bans on discrimination based on nationality. Kolkhorst has said she believes it would survive a court challenge.

Allen resident Jerry Pi said he lost hope for the bill to be stopped in the Legislature.

"My personal plan is that I'll try to contribute to fund organizations who challenge this law in court," Pi said.

Dallas-based attorney Tom Tong said he is not surprised that the bill passed the Senate.

Tong, who said he has mostly voted for Republican candidates in the past, said he hopes Asian Americans on both ends of the political spectrum can come together to have their voice heard by lawmakers.

"We're not even involved," Tong said. "We're not even invited to help them with something that so closely impacts us, meaning the Asian community here. I would hope all the Asian Texans who are eligible to vote know what's going on right now and that lawmakers do make laws that closely impact our daily lives."


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photo Texas State Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst during an event as part of the 2022 Republican Party of Texas State Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Houston, Texas on Thursday, June 16, 2022. (Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)