New bill, SB 147, should strike balance between security concerns, immigrants' worries

When I spoke to the Exchange Club of Sugar Land a few weeks ago, I noted that for the first time in my professional journalism career, I am writing an opinion column here at the Fort Bend Star. But here's the thing about that: it's hard to write an opinion column when you also serve as the primary news reporter for the publication.

Notwithstanding the monumental changes that the media ecosystem has undergone in recent years, there is still a vestigial adherence to a kind of "wall of separation" between straight reportorial coverage and opinion journalism, both of which have a long and storied history in the United States and other countries which maintain a reverence for a free press.

All of this is to say that I embark on this particular column with a bit of trepidation.

As I noted in my inaugural column, Fort Bend County is an extremely diverse place. As Dr. Steven Klineberg, the emeritus professor at Rice University and longtime director of the annual Houston Area Survey often notes in his presentations, Fort Bend may be the most diverse county in the country. Not bad for a formerly rural county that was formerly made up made of up mostly of white residents, with pockets of Black and Brown communities.

Today, the four major racial groups (with Asian-Americans including those of East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern descent) are at near-parity levels in Fort Bend. As someone who grew up in the extremely diverse community of Alief, that's been refreshing to see.

There has been much discussion recently about a bill that was introduced in the current Texas Legislature by Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhurst, called SB 147. The bill as originally authored by the Brenham Republican, whose 18th District includes part of Fort Bend, called for a ban on the ownership of Texas real estate by people and entities from four countries deemed adversarial to the United States - China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

There's no doubting the tensions between the U.S. and those countries, as news events bring home to us nearly every day.

But Democrats and immigration advocates immediately pounced on the bill, alarmed at what the saw as a xenophobic intention behind it. There was much publicity, including in national news outlets, as well as numerous protests against the bill, including one held by Fort Bend County Judge KP George (an Indian-American) and other Democrats at the Fort Bend County Courthouse.

I'm still fairly new to this job, and I didn't have deep experience with the local political scene. I was aware of the controversy, but hadn't been able take a close look into it.

But when I later tagged along with the Fort Bend County Chamber of Commerce on their Fort Bend County Day trek to the Texas Capitol on February 27, I had my first opportunity. The first event of that long day was a bipartisan luncheon panel of area legislators, where Kolkhurst and her fellow Republican, Texas Rep. Jacey Jetton, set out to explain the bill in a more concerted way than before.

Kolkhurst told the attendees that the bill was still undergoing revisions that she said would address many of the concerns raised. Democratic Rep. Suleman Lalani, one of the first two Muslim representatives recently elected to the Texas Legislature said he was pleased that the bill was being modified.

On March 2, the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing in which Kolkhurst laid out the latest version of the bill. She explained that its impetus was concerns that had been brought to her by residents across her district about real estate purchases near critical infrastructure, including near military bases.

The new version of the bill includes modifications that clarify what is meant by real estate, and allows for U.S. citizens and people who are dual citizens to purchase real estate.

The hearing went on for several hours, including many people who spoke about the bill. While there were a handful of supporters, including some from immigrant communities, the vast majority spoke against it. Their concerns were largely related to the fears that such a piece of legislation could lead to backlash against immigrants, which has been on the rise in recent years.

Those concerns are well-placed. We've seen a rise in discrimination, even violence, against people of different backgrounds in this country in recent years. Anti-Asian sentiment was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which had its origins in China. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been a mainstay at least since the 9/11 attacks. Antisemitism likewise has been on the rise of late.

Perhaps ironically, a recent online story by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University highlighted a paper by academics at the George W. Bush Institute. According the the Kinder story, the study titled "Immigrants and Opportunity in American Cities” finds that "in the past decade, immigrant populations fueled immense population growth in cities and suburbs in particular."

"In the Houston metropolitan area, the report finds that immigrants are thriving best in Fort Bend County, ranked No. 8 in the country, and Brazoria County, ranked No. 15. Harris County was ranked No. 99," the Kinder Institute reports.(The full story can be found at

One hopes that as SB 147 makes its way through the Legislature, a balance between the security concerns from which it arose and the very real concerns that immigrant communities have about it can be found.

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