Watch: Texas immigrants “shocked” by bill that would have prevented them from buying homes

(Fabiana Chaparro/The Texas Tribune, Fabiana Chaparro/The Texas Tribune)

Initially, Senate Bill 147 would have prevented legal Texas residents from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea from buying land. Pushback from immigrant groups persuaded senators to soften the proposal.

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This week, the Texas Senate passed a bill that limits the sale of Texas farmland to citizens and entities associated with China and several other countries.

This is a significantly reduced version of an earlier proposal by Brenham Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst that would have outright banned land sales to dual citizens and businesses associated with China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. The original proposal led to months of protests in immigrant communities in Texas, including one in Houston’s Chinatown on Feb. 11.

“So this bill will directly affect me, like if I want to buy a house, and then this is not constitutional right?” Yizi Wong said at the Houston event. “This is purely wrong.”

Armin Salek, a lawyer and founder of the Youth Justice Alliance, said that the previous versions of the bill did not distinguish between individuals and the countries they live in.

“While I don’t think that Senator Kolkhorst was intending to create prejudicial law … it set language for incredibly damaging legislation,” Salek said.

[Texas Senate passes bill limiting farmland sales to China, other countries]

On March 2, 85 people testified against the bill in a hearing before a Senate committee, including Xiaoyu Wu, a software engineer from China who received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and recently bought a house in South Austin with his wife, Cheng Xue.

“Before that I saw the bill, I feel like I was so welcomed by our society, our community. But when I saw the bill, I was shocked,” Xue said. “We really want to pursue our dream.”

Since the bill’s proposition, Kolkhorst has insisted that it serves as a national security protocol and does not target individual citizens.

“You can come and buy your company. You can have your restaurant,” she said after roughly two hours of debate on Tuesday before the Senate voted to approve the bill.

Despite this change, many say that the language of the bill fosters an uneasy relationship between Texas and immigrant communities.

“Although I am no longer targeted because I have my permanent residency … it took me 10 years,” Wu said. “I think it is still discriminatory.”

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Correction, : An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Houston protest against SB 147 occurred on Feb. 10. The protest was held on Feb. 11.