Jackie Beckwith is an evening 1L student at the Washington College of Law. Jackie earned her undergraduate degree from Gettysburg College and a master’s degree from George Washington University. She works in the transportation industry and plans to run for office in the next five years.

A topic that has cropped up at the state and federal legislative levels recently is that of land ownership. Legislators have focused on whether it is appropriate for individuals, companies, and governments associated with foreign powers to own U.S. land.

In January 2023, Texas Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst filed Senate Bill 147, which would ban citizens, governments, and entities from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea from purchasing any land in the Lone Star State.[1] Opponents of Texas SB 147 pointed to the documented rise in anti-Asian American sentiment the United States has suffered recently and argue that these types of legislative efforts further enflame existing tensions.[2] Some have also raised the fear of retributive actions from the Chinese Communist Party if these bills were to pass, and the effect any retaliations could have on the international business community. As of this writing, there has been no additional movement on Texas Senate Bill 147.[3]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency publishes annual records of foreign holdings of U.S. land. According to the most recent data from 2021, three of the countries targeted in the Texas bill own the following amounts of domestic land[4]:

China 194,772 acres
Iran 2,463 acres
Russia 73 acres

The report does not indicate any ownership of U.S. land by North Korea.

California attempted a similar legislative gambit in 2022. Democrat state Senator Melissa Hurtado authored Senate Bill 1084, which “would have prohibited a foreign government from purchasing, acquiring, leasing, or holding an interest in agricultural land” in the state.[5] There were some carve-outs in the bill, however, Sen. Hurtado argued that current water and food scarcity combined with global food supply chain concerns warranted legislative action. Unlike the Texas bill, Sen. Hurtado tailored her language to agricultural land while widening its purview to all foreign powers.

S.B. 1084 passed the state Senate and the state Assembly unanimously. Some legislators were not present for the vote.[6] However, Governor Newson did not sign the bill and offered what many saw as a minor clerical issue as his primary reason. It remains to be seen whether a version of this bill will be introduced in the 2023 legislative session.

In addition to state efforts, there has also been some federal legislative action on this topic. In the 117th Congress, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives called for official investigations into Chinese land ownership in the United States.[7] This focus has continued into the current legislative session; in early January 2023, Texas Republican Representative Chip Roy (TX-21) introduced H.R. 344, which would ban Chinese land investments within the United States.[8]

Washington Democrat Representative Dan Newhouse (WA-4) followed Rep. Roy’s bill with one of his own, albeit more narrowly tailored. Titled “Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People’s Republic of China Act,” the legislation would prohibit the purchase of public or private U.S. farmland by “foreign nationals associated with the Government of the People’s Republic of China.”[9] Several Republican legislators joined Rep. Newhouse in co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill.

There is a growing tide of concern among state and federal legislators across parties regarding ownership of U.S. land, particularly agricultural land. Bills such as TX S.B. 147, which use broad language and singles out specific countries, are not likely to become law. However, more targeted legislation protecting domestic farmland stands a better chance given the immediacy with which all people can relate to safeguarding our nation’s food supply.

Precise legislative drafting, however, will still need to comport with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Oyama v. State of California, 332 U.S. 633 (1948). The Court held that California’s Alien Land Law, which forbade aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship to acquire, own, occupy, lease, or transfer agricultural land, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit held in von Kerssenbrock-Praschma v. Saunders, 121 F.3d 373 (1997) that a Missouri state statute preventing acquisition of agricultural land by aliens was “rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.”

If state legislators continue to push forward on legislating ownership of U.S. land, and particularly agricultural land, they would be advised to study case law and practice precise legislative drafting. If focus is sustained at the federal level, Members of Congress should follow the same advice.


[1] Robert Downen, Bill to ban Chinese citizens and government from buying Texas land gains steam among Republicans, The Texas Tribune (Jan. 20, 2023), https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/20/texas-legislature-china-land-ownership/.

[2] Jennifer Lee and Karthick Ramakrishnan, A Year After Atlanta, AAPI Data, (last visited Feb. 8, 2023) http://aapidata.com/blog/year-after-atlanta/.

[3] Texas Legislature Online, https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=88R&Bill=SB147.

[4] Mary Estep et al., Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land, USDA Farm Service Agency https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/EPAS/PDF/2021_afida_annual_report_through_12_31_2021.pdf

[5] Evan Symon, Newsom Vetoes Bill To Prohibit Foreign Governments From Buying CA Agricultural Land, California Globe (Sept. 8, 2022), https://californiaglobe.com/articles/newsom-vetoes-bill-to-prohibit-foreign-governments-from-buying-ca-agricultural-land/

[6] California Legislative Information, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billVotesClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB1084 (last visited Feb. 8, 2023)

[7] Kristina Peterson, House Republicans Ask GAO to Probe Foreign Ownership of U.S. Farmland, The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 3, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/house-republicans-ask-gao-to-probe-foreign-ownership-of-u-s-farmland-11664784003

[8] Rep. Roy introduces legislation to protect American land from Chinese Communist Party buyup, Congressman Chip Roy (Jan. 12, 2023), https://roy.house.gov/media/press-releases/rep-roy-introduces-legislation-protect-american-land-chinese-communist-party

[9] Newhouse Leads Bill to Prohibit Purchase of U.S. Land by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Congressman Dan Newhouse (Feb. 2, 2023)  https://newhouse.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/newhouse-leads-bill-prohibit-purchase-us-land-chinese-communist-party