Bills aimed at foreign nationals reminiscent of US’ racist past, critics say

A bill headed to the Texas Senate floor would bar citizens from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia — and businesses with ties to those countries — from buying property in Texas.

By Stella M. Chávez, KERA April 19, 2023 10:42 am, ,

From KERA:

A bill headed to the Texas Senate floor would bar citizens from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia — and businesses with ties to those countries — from buying property in Texas.

Senate Bill 147 is just one of several bills filed this legislative session aimed at immigrants and foreign nationals. And that has members of these communities worried.

Lily Trieu, executive director of Asian Texans for Justice, says bills aimed at Chinese nationals, or any nationality for that matter, are discriminatory and could cause irreversible harm.

“Here’s the reality. The reality is the average Texan cannot look at an Asian American and know without a doubt whether they’re Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or Japanese, etc.,” Trieu said.

Trieu’s concerned about what could happen if this bill ultimately becomes law. Even if it doesn’t, she and others in the Asian American community believe the damage has already been done.

“Bills like this that really push this narrative that people of Asian descent, that people who have Chinese descent, that they’re dangerous, that somehow they’re a threat to national security,” she said. “This hurts the entire Asian-American community, whether you identify as being Chinese or not.”

Brenham Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who filed SB 147, has said she is concerned about the influence of adversarial countries in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he would sign it.

Critics say these bills hark back to a controversial period in American History when racial or ethnic groups were the subject of laws that denied them certain rights. Sone have disturbing similarities to past laws that were ultimately repealed.

‘Chinese exclusion’

One of the most controversial laws was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese workers from coming to the U.S. It also prevented Chinese nationals who were already here from becoming U.S. citizens. The law was on the books for more than 60 years, and it was just one of several acts aimed at the Chinese community.

There were also what were known as Alien Land Laws, which denied Asian immigrants from owning land in California and other states. In California, they were also barred from leasing land and eventually extended the ban on owning land to the children of Asian immigrants born on U.S. soil. More than a dozen states, including Texas, enacted similar laws.

Brandon Rottinghaus, political science at the University of Houston, said legislators often file bills to appease a political base. But when those bills advance, they can become dangerous. He said such bills are an example of politics leading the policy.

“Because these do have the tendency to be discriminatory or they demonize a certain community,” Rottinghaus said. “And that leads to real world, tangible violence against some people who are in these communities.”

Alienating voters?

The fact that several bills targeting immigrants or nationals were filed this session isn’t necessarily surprising. But it does raise the question whether lawmakers care at all about alienating potential voters.

Rottinghaus said it’s hard to go back and ask for votes if voters feel their community has been unfairly targeted.

“The Asian-American community is one of the fastest growing voter bases, but also they do tend to side with both parties,” Rottinghaus said. “So if you want to grow your party, you’ve got to be able to reach across and to unify.”

In 2022, Asian Texans for Justice conducted a poll of Asian voters in Texas. It found that 42% identified as Democrats, 29% were Republican and 30% were independent.

Nabila Mansoor, executive director of RISE AAPI, an advocacy group for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities said many people come here thinking they’ll have an opportunity to live the so-called American dream. But once they arrive, they face obstacles.

“Any time you single out a community, you are really setting that community up for a downfall,” she said.

She pointed to the rise in hate crimes targeting Asian people. A recent analysis of FBI data by The Marshall Project found that hate crimes reported to the FBI more than doubled for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from 2020 to 2021, the biggest increase among all groups.

Mansoor said some lawmakers like to speak out about how people are treated in other countries but end up sounding like hypocrites.

“Here we are, we hear from our legislators that you know they are all out in support of the women who are fighting against the oppressive regime in Iran,” Mansoor said. “And yet, if those same people, flee that oppressive regime that they so much like to call out, when they land here in Texas, and try to buy land to open a business, ‘no we’re going to deny you.’”

Mansoor said lawmakers shouldn’t conflate citizens from certain countries with the governments that run those countries.

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