Chinese citizens sue Florida over ban on buying property

Chinese citizens sue Florida over ban on buying property

  • By Kayla Epstein
  • BBC News, New York

source of images, Getty Images


Similar bills in other parts of the country have drawn protests from Asian Americans

A group of Chinese citizens working and living in Florida are challenging a new law that prohibits them from buying property in the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group representing the plaintiffs, said the law was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The ban would also impact Chinese Americans and people of Asian descent, according to the lawsuit.

Proponents of the bill have argued that it will protect US national security.

The Florida governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The trial is taking place against the backdrop of strained US-China relations and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ soon-to-be-launched presidential bid.

“Florida’s discriminatory property law is unfair, unwarranted and unconstitutional,” ACLU senior counsel Ashley Gorski said in a statement. “Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries.”

The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and two other groups, say that in practice Florida law will lead to widespread discrimination against these communities in the state, including ordinary residents and US citizens.

The legislation applies to owning property within 10 miles of a “critical infrastructure facility” and also prohibits foreign entities from Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

These areas include airports, military installations, spaceports, refineries, power plants, water and waste treatment facilities or seaports. Foreign entities are also prohibited from buying agricultural land.

The legislation focuses heavily on restricting sales to Chinese nationals and entities.

This makes it a crime for Chinese citizens or companies to buy property, or for any person or company to knowingly sell to them. For citizens of other countries on the list, the penalty is a misdemeanor.

Over the years, Republicans and Democrats have expressed concern about the potential for state-sponsored interference by China, Iran, and Russia in key U.S. infrastructure, such as its electrical grid or its voting systems.

Florida is also not the only state to take such measures. The Republican governor of Montana signed a measure in early May prohibiting Chinese companies and nationals from buying agricultural land or property near certain critical infrastructure. Texas is also considering a bill along these lines.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, signed SB 264 into law on May 8, and it is expected to go into effect July 1.

At a May 8 press conference, DeSantis said the law was part of an effort “to stop the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The United States has a long history of discriminatory housing policies – both official and unofficial. Multiple civil rights cases have been brought to end housing discrimination based on race, gender, ideology, or orientation.

In the 20th century, a practice known as “redlining” prevented many communities of color, especially black residents, from owning property in certain neighborhoods.

Asian Americans have also borne the brunt of these policies throughout US history. Legal representatives specifically referenced those times, saying the law would harm Chinese immigrants.

“Xenophobic policies and rhetoric toward China fuel racial prejudice,” said Bethany Li, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs.

The law has left many in the state’s Asian community uncertain and fearful about their future.

Ahead of the bill’s passage, Chinese Americans demonstrated outside the Florida state capitol against the new restrictions.

A student, Victoria Li, told the Tallahassee Democrat that she was concerned that “the bill will affect people like me who want to own a home.

“We are scared, we are terrified,” she said. “That’s what we came here for. We have the American dream.”

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