The American Civil Liberties Union said today it is suing Florida over a property law approved by the state’s legislature and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this month that restricts immigrants from China, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea from buying homes. The law, which comes into force on July 1, singles out China nationals for “the harshest restrictions and penalties,” it noted.
“The new law (known as SB 264) harkens back to the anti-Asian land laws of the past century, which barred Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning property in many states. Those laws violated the fundamental right to equal protection — just like Florida’s does,” the ACLU said in a Tweet.
“Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party,” DeSantis said on May 8. “I’m proud to sign this legislation to stop the purchase of our farmland and land near our military bases and critical infrastructure by Chinese agents, to stop sensitive digital data from being stored in China, and to stop CCP influence in our education system.”
The broad-brush depiction of Chinese from the mainland as “agents,” resultant threat of racial profiling of Asian Americans in the state’s real estate market, and burdens on existing property owners from the Chinese mainland have been particularly criticized. Individuals with ties to China’s government or Chinese Communist Party aren’t allowed to purchase real estate anywhere in Florida under the bill, according to the Florida Times-Union, nor can anyone who is “domiciled” in China and not a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, it said. Non-tourist visa holders, however, can buy one real estate property that is not within five miles of one of these military installations and not larger than two acres, the newspaper reported.
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“The government’s scapegoating and stripping of the land ownership rights of Asian American communities are stains on our nation’s history. SB 264 repeats this shameful discrimination and further stokes current anti-Asian sentiment by equating Chinese people with certain immigration statuses as agents of the Chinese Communist Party,” said U.S. House of Representatives member from California Rep. Judy Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Chu said earlier this month she is working to introduce a bill to preempt at the federal level such discriminatory state laws.
“SB 264 places a disproportionate burden on current Chinese homeowners who now must register their property with a state agency,” Chu said. “And as a result of SB 264, Asian Americans living in Florida will now likely face undue suspicion when purchasing property, including potential racial profiling by realtors, lenders, and other professionals in the real estate industry,” Chu predicted.
DeSantis, seen as a likely candidate in the upcoming U.S. presidential election next year, is already fighting a political war with Disney after the company canceled a $1 billion office project in Forbes. (See post here.)
The new law was also criticized earlier this month in a statement by the Florida Asian American Justice Alliance, a non-profit organization that aims to protect the Asian American Pacific Island community in Florida. “The law imposes criminal liability on ordinary Floridian real property sellers for violations, which will invariably create a chilling effect in Florida’s housing market that discourages sellers to consider any buyers who have an Asian name. This will undoubtedly constrain the development of the Asian communities and deprive them of equal opportunity in Florida. Even worse, the law enables covert discrimination and racial profiling that will perpetuate stereotypes against Asian Americans.”
“This law brings back memories of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which President Chester Arthur signed into law on May 6, 1882, and the ‘Alien Land Law,’ which was finally removed from the Florida constitution five years ago after being on the books for almost 100 years,” the Alliance also said. “Unfortunately, Florida has revived a vestige of these laws in the name of national security,” it said. SB 264 fails “to properly tailor its policy means to serve the legitimate interest of national security,” the group said.
Florida had about 900,000 dwellers of Asian American Pacific Island heritage as of 2020, according to the alliance. The state’s population that year was nearly 22 million.
DeSantis backed the law amid the annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the U.S. honoring the contributions of those groups to the nation.
“Laws like these are based on false claims about national security. There’s no evidence that real estate purchases by people from China are causing harm, but there is a long history of similar policies making discrimination and violence against immigrants worse,” the ACLU said. “The bill legitimizes and expands housing discrimination, in violation of both the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act. It is unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional.”
“The relevant restrictions will also further fuel Asian hatred in the U.S., intensify racial discrimination, and seriously undermine the values that the U.S. claims to hold,” China Embassy Spokesman Liu Pengyu said in a written comment earlier this month.
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