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Ban on Property Sales to Citizens of China, Iran, and Others Is Gaining Momentum in Texas Legislature

Last week, the Texas Senate made significant progress in passing a bill that imposes restrictions on land purchases by citizens of China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. While some view this as a necessary step...

Last week, the Texas Senate made significant progress in passing a bill that imposes restrictions on land purchases by citizens of China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. While some view this as a necessary step to protect national security, civil liberties advocates are raising concerns about potential discrimination based on national origin. This article will explore the current state of the bill and its implications for immigrant communities in Texas.

A Controversial Measure

The bill, known as Senate Bill 147, aims to prohibit citizens from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea from purchasing "real property," encompassing agricultural land, improvements, mines or quarries, minerals, and standing timber. Even individuals in these countries who are legally present in the United States on certain visas would be affected by this ban. The bill is now awaiting review by the Texas House of Representatives, and if it successfully reaches Governor Greg Abbott's desk, he has expressed his intention to sign it into law.

Concerns from Civil Rights Groups

Civil rights groups, including Project South and Asian Texans for Justice, argue that the bill perpetuates anti-immigrant bias and unfairly targets individuals based on immigration or citizenship status and national origin. Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for Project South, states that the bill encourages discrimination and invokes historical prejudices under the guise of national security concerns. These groups believe that the amendments made to the bill so far are insufficient and still contribute to a climate of fear and suspicion towards immigrant communities.

A Watered-Down Version

It's important to note that the current version of the bill is a diluted form of a more extreme proposal that initially aimed to ban all property sales, including home purchases, to citizens and dual nationals of the targeted countries. Last year, when the original measure was announced, it triggered protests from Chinese and Iranian American activist groups in Texas. The subsequent revisions narrowed the focus to farmland purchases by foreign citizens, granting exemptions to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Lingering Concerns

Despite the changes, civil liberties groups argue that the bill does not go far enough and could set a dangerous precedent. Lily Trieu, the executive director of Asian Texans for Justice, explains that the bill incorrectly conflates individuals with the governments of their home countries. Many foreign citizens in the United States hold foreign citizenship due to opposition to their governments, and this bill fails to acknowledge that distinction. Activists fear that this legislation will only serve to discriminate against individuals from the targeted countries.

Potential Ramifications

While the bill faces resistance from activist groups, a similar measure is also being pursued in Florida by Governor Ron DeSantis, targeting citizens from the same four countries, as well as Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. Iranian American communities in Texas have been particularly affected by these initiatives, as they still feel the aftermath of the Trump-era policies that suppressed their civil liberties and implemented the so-called Muslim ban. They fear that the ban on property sales could serve as a precursor to further discriminatory restrictions on their rights.

Upholding Constitutional Rights

Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council, suggests that this bill resembles the Alien Land Laws of the 19th century, which targeted Asian immigrants. He emphasizes the importance of rejecting such measures as unconstitutional, as they have the potential to lead to further extreme actions based on national origin. Concerns about a Chinese firm's plans to purchase land near a U.S. military air base initially sparked the bill's creation. While U.S. officials determined that the purchase posed no security threat, the firm ultimately had to sell its interest in the project.

A Call for Tolerance and Inclusion

A coalition of human rights groups recently issued a letter to Governor Abbott, urging him not to sign the bill. The letter emphasizes that singling out Asian, Iranian, Russian, and other communities denies them the same opportunities afforded to other individuals in America: the ability to build a life and establish roots in their chosen home. The bill's opponents argue that it fosters a climate of intolerance and fear, contrary to the values of inclusivity and diversity that Texas and the United States uphold.

MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 23: A Guatemalan father and his daughter arrives with dozens of other women, men and their children at a bus station following release from Customs and Border Protection on June 23, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Once families and individuals are released and given a court hearing date they are brought to the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center to rest, clean up, enjoy a meal and to get guidance to their next destination. Before President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that halts the practice of separating families who are seeking asylum, over 2,300 immigrant children had been separated from their parents in the zero-tolerance policy for border crossers (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images).

As the debate surrounding Senate Bill 147 continues, it is essential to evaluate its potential impact on immigrant communities and consider the fundamental principles of equality, justice, and inclusion. The outcome of this bill could have far-reaching consequences, shaping not only the future of land purchases in Texas but also the rights and perception of individuals based on their national origin.