In House Bill 4736, far-right State Representative Tony Tinderholt proposed that higher education institutions be barred from admitting students from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, as well as any undocumented students.
Open Doors data from 2022 shows that of the state’s 70,223 international students, who will spend approximately $1.7 billion, 15.8% came from China in the 2021/22 academic year.
There were 9,295 students from Iran across the US. In 2020/21, around 4,800 Russian students were enrolled in American colleges and universities. It is unclear whether any North Korean students are studying in the country at all. Reports suggest that China is a major study destination for a small number of individuals leaving the authoritarian country.
The bill comes on the heels of two other Texas laws aimed at preventing nationals of those four countries from buying real estate in Texas. Supporters of the laws include Gov. Ted Abbott, and conservative lawmakers say they are part of a national security strategy to prevent foreign interference in government.
While stakeholders close to the issue suggest the bill is highly unlikely to pass, many fear the flames of anti-Asian and anti-immigrant sentiment have been rekindled.
“Banning students from any country or those who have lived in the state for years but are undocumented is a travesty,” said Lin Larson, director of student recruitment at the University of Texas at Arlington. PIE News.
“This hurts Texas students and is a slap in the face to our state’s diversity”
“While the bill will most likely not pass,” she continued, “the very notion that students, many of whom have already faced hardship and struggle, are being targeted limits the ability to share ideas, knowledge, and experiences. This hurts Texas students and is a slap in the face to the diversity of our state.”
Last month, Abbott’s office issued a memo to leaders of state agencies and public universities that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are illegal in hiring. As a result, Texas A&M, Texas State, and the University of Houston have banned DEI statements from their employment applications.
After many Republican lawmakers backed Trump’s claim that China deliberately spread the coronavirus around the world, a wave of hate crimes against Asians followed in the US. In major cities, the percentage of anti-Asian hate crimes increased by more than 150%.
Advocacy groups such as Texas AAPI and The National Immigration Law Center fear that the three latest “racist and xenophobic” laws in Texas could spark a new wave of violence against citizens of the four countries named in the laws.
This is not the first call to ban foreign students from China from Texas schools. Last year, a congressional candidate proposed banning all Chinese students from Texas schools.
Opponents have expressed concern that the movement to ban certain foreign nationals, particularly Chinese immigrants, hearkens back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which imposed a 10-year ban on Chinese laborers from working in the US. The law restricted Chinese immigration and rights for more than half a decade.
The bills come amid much debate on both sides of the aisle over allegations of Chinese espionage, from the balloon that was shot down over the Carolinas this winter to the social media platform Tik Tok. While TikTok is currently banned on government devices, the Biden administration has threatened to ban the app entirely and is expected to issue a ruling soon.
At the University of Texas Austin, alumnus William Zhang co-created Korra, an app that serves as a platform for college students in Texas to discuss issues of race and discrimination they’ve experienced. The app is also used by students at Texas A&M University, Rice University, and the University of Houston.
Last month, the University of Houston held its fifth annual Global Communication Summit, with the theme of combating anti-Asian racism in communications.
Yali Zou, a professor of global leadership studies at UH, was one of the organizers and said she hoped the summit would shed light on some of the everyday issues Asians face on campus and in the community.
“We hope to demonstrate that the issues of racism, prejudice, violence and microaggressions against Asians/Asian Americans are important issues for the entire Houston community,” she said.