Thursday, May 25, 2023

Chinese Immigrants Sue Florida Over Law Banning Them From Buying Land

In the 1800 and 1900s, a number of states, including Washington and California, had laws known as the alien land laws barring noncitizens ineligible for citizenship to own real property.  The laws targeted Asian immigrants who, as non-whites, were ineligible for naturalization.
The ACLU of Florida issued a press release on a new alien land law, signed into law by Republican Presidential candidate Ron Desantis.

"A group of Chinese citizens who live, work, study, and raise families in Florida, as well as a real estate brokerage firm in Florida that primarily serves clients of Chinese descent, are filing a lawsuit to combat Florida’s discriminatory property law, SB 264. Signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the legislation unfairly restricts most Chinese citizens — and most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea — from purchasing homes in the state. Unless the courts act, the law will take effect on July 1, 2023.

The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance (CALDA).

Today’s lawsuit argues that SB 264 will codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent in violation of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act. It will also cast an undue burden of suspicion on anyone seeking to buy property whose name sounds remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, or Syrian. Gov. DeSantis has argued that this law is necessary to protect Florida from the Chinese Communist Party and its activities. But this misguided rationale unfairly equates Chinese people with the actions of their government, and there is no evidence of national security harm resulting from real estate ownership by Chinese people in Florida.

“Florida’s discriminatory property law is unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional,” said Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries. If SB 264 goes into effect, it will profoundly harm our clients and countless other immigrants in Florida.”

Florida’s dangerous new law recalls similar efforts over the past century to weaponize false claims of “national security” against Asian immigrants and other marginalized communities. In the early 1900s, politicians across the country used similar justifications to pass “alien land laws” prohibiting Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners. These racist policies not only hurt immigrants financially, but also severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities living in the United States. Over time, these laws were struck down by the courts or were repealed by state legislatures because they violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.

“All Asian Americans will feel the stigma and the chilling effect created by this Florida law, just like the discriminatory laws did to our ancestors more than a hundred years ago,” said Clay Zhu, attorney with DeHeng Law Offices PC and co-founder of CALDA. “We shall not go back.”

Over a dozen state legislatures have recently introduced similar legislation, and many of these bills likewise target people from China. Florida’s bill was the first of this wave of legislation to be enacted into law.

“Xenophobic policies and rhetoric toward China stoke racial bias,” said Bethany Li, AALDEF legal director. “We have repeatedly seen how policies in the name of national security have harmed Asian Americans — from immigration restrictions, to the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans in camps, and post-9/11 surveillance. Failing to call out the discriminatory impacts means our community will continue to experience racism, violence, and the erosion of rights.”

“Asian immigrants are part of Florida’s fabric. For hundreds of years, they have contributed to our communities and have made this state their home,” said Daniel Tilley, legal director for the ACLU of Florida. “The discriminatory policies pushed by the DeSantis administration will not go unchecked. The Constitution protects us all.”

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