Louisiana’s Chinese Americans Concerned About State Laws That Would Ban Foreign Nationals From Owning or Renting Property

Back steps of the Louisiana State Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In Louisiana, state lawmakers are debating bills in the State House and State Senate – HB 537 and SB 91that would ban some foreign nationals from China, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea from owning or renting property in the state. Here I interview a member of the Chinese American community in Louisiana – who has chosen to remain anonymous – on what he feels are the potential impact of those bills.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. In Louisiana, bills were introduced in the State House (HB 537) and State Senate (SB 91) that would prevent foreign nationals from China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela to own or lease property in the state. This would include anyone in the United States on a temporary work or student visa. Similar bills have been introduced or passed in Florida and Texas. How do you think such a ban in Louisiana would affect you, your friends and family, and/or your work?

Unfortunately, they will directly impact my family. For example, SB 91, in its current wording, will ban any leasing and purchasing of properties within a 50-mile radius of any military installations, and is retroactive. (Editors’ Note: Both HB 537 and SB 91 also make foreign-owned property subject to civil forfeiture.)

We currently own a house in Baton Rouge, where the entire city is within a 50-mile radius of the Armed Forces Reserve Center. This means the Attorney General can legally take our house away , and my family will not be allowed to purchase or lease a new home, whether in Baton Rouge or anywhere in Louisiana (almost the entire land of Louisiana is within a 50-mile radius of some form of military installation). I am afraid we will need to either sleep on the street or find a new job in another state.

My family also cares for international students and scholars from China, most of whom are living in rental properties temporarily. SB 91 also allows the Attorney General to legally take the properties away from them, and prevent them from renting a new place. HB 537 also has the same effect. Though the author claims the bill has excluded individuals, immigrant lawyers pointed out that is false due to the inaccurate wording. Most international students and scholars from China are still subject to HB 537.

To summarize, these two bills are devastating. They would be nothing short of an eviction order to my family and most of our international student and scholar friends. 

“These two bills are devastating. They would be nothing short of an eviction order to my family and most of our international student and scholar friends.”

As someone who identifies as Chinese or Chinese American, do these laws affect how welcome or safe you feel in Louisiana?

Definitely. The wording is cruel and unforgiving. We are labeled as “foreign adversary” or “persons connected with foreign adversary” not because of what we did, but because where we were born, which we had no control over. They simply tell us we are not welcome in Louisiana. Frankly, some friends expecting to come to the state this fall have already told me they are having second thoughts about Louisiana.

After several members of the Louisiana Chinese American community organized a protest in Baton Rouge earlier this week against HB 537, the bill was amended to clarify that it would not affect any foreign national on a temporary work or student visa. Are you satisfied by this change, or do you still oppose HB 537?

I am not satisfied. For two reasons:

One, immigration lawyers pointed out that the amendment is still poorly worded and dangerous. For instance, someone legally present in the US does not necessarily hold a valid visa from USCIS. There are many different authorities that grant legal status, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and different scenarios where people do not have a valid visa but are still legally present in the US. All of them are very common. The amendment is far from enough to address the legal presence of foreigners in the US. As simple example, a student from China on an F-1 visa may still be targeted by HB 537. 

Two, even if the amendment properly excludes individuals legally present in the US, it still promotes discrimination. We are still first labeled as a “foreign adversary” before someone would consider whether an exception can be made, if at all. Landlords/sellers will hesitate when they see an Asian face, and favor a different tenant/buyer to reduce their own risk. As long as “national origin” becomes a question when leasing or buying, I believe it is against the Fair Housing Act – not to mention what people would do in other aspects to someone labeled as a “foreign adversary”.

Currently, SB 91 – if signed into law – would apply to all non-permanent resident foreign national citizens of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela, regardless of their visa status. It is scheduled for debate and vote in the Louisiana State Senate on Monday, May 22. If you could say one thing to the state senators considering this bill, what would it be?

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

Despite the likely broad impacts of HB 537 / SB 91 if passed, relatively few people are aware of these bills in Louisiana, or of similar bills in other states. Why is this issue important, and how has it changed your outlook on politics and political activism? Have you become more politically activated because of these bills?

It is definitely a wakeup call to all Chinese immigrants.

For years we have been seeing ourselves as “model immigrants”. We are humble, smart, doing honest work, contributing to the community, paying taxes, and avoiding conflicts. But now, a lot of us are learning for the first time how legislation works in the US, and how much it can impact us if we are unaware or stay quiet.

Personally, I am not someone interested in politics. I have seen it promotes too many sins. But we have to defend ourselves and our neighbors should they be in harm’s way. I am planning on writing some automated computer scripts to keep an eye on the new legislation bills, and that will alert me when something concerning us is brought up, so that we would not miss a fighting chance.

How can readers get more involved in the fight against HB 537 / SB 91?

Please call, write or meet your State Senators and House Representatives to oppose these bills. That would be a huge help! 

Please use your connections to make more people aware of these bills. I posted on Nextdoor and a lot of people were shocked and expressed their concerns and support. Sometimes a lot of people are just not aware of it until it is passed without any opposition.

Please love and show kindness to your neighbors, who originate from those “foreign adversary” countries. Listen to their stories, get to know them. They are people too. If we can get to know each other better, perhaps there will be less fear and hostility.

Correction: An earlier version of this post listed DHS as responsible for overseeing immigration. This has been clarified to refer specifically to ICE.

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