Groups target Chinese land ownership law

A coalition of civil-rights and legal groups across the country are trying to bolster a challenge to a new Florida law that restricts people from China owning property in the state.

  • By
  • | 12:30 p.m. June 17, 2023
Irina Schmidt -
  • Ormond Beach Observer
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Saying such laws are “stains on American history,” a coalition of civil-rights and legal groups across the country are trying to bolster a challenge to a new Florida law that restricts people from China owning property in the state.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Wednesday approved a request from the groups to file a friend-of-the-court brief backing a lawsuit filed by four Chinese people and a real-estate brokerage that serves Chinese clients.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law (SB 264) last month and are seeking a preliminary injunction. Winsor scheduled a hearing July 18 on the preliminary injunction request, with the state filing arguments by July 3.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs contend the law, which will take effect July 1, violates constitutional equal-protection and due-process rights and laws such as the federal Fair Housing Act.

In the friend-of-the-court brief, the civil-rights and legal groups likened the law to efforts dating back more than a century to restrict Asians from owning land. They said courts rejected the laws, such as in a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling about a California law.

“Florida’s law functionally legalizes discrimination against Asian persons based on anti-Asian rhetoric employing stereotypes and fearmongering,” the friend-of-the-court brief said. “Coming at a time where anti-Asian sentiments and rhetoric are rising across the nation, the invidious effect of the law is to sanction discrimination against Asian persons. It is patently unconstitutional.”

But in signing the bill and two other measures May 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the legislation was designed to curb the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Florida.

“They have established a position of economic might, of industrial hegemony, and their military is far stronger today than it was 20 or 25 years ago,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing event in Brooksville “They have a leader who's very ideological and is intent on expanding CCP (Chinese Communist Party) influence, not just in their region but even around the globe.”

The land-related bill partly focuses on people from what are known as “foreign countries of concern” — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. It includes restrictions on such things as owning agricultural land and property near military bases by people who are from those countries and are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States.

But the law also more specifically targets people from China who are not citizens or permanent U.S. residents.

It would prevent them from purchasing property in Florida, with some exceptions. For example, they each would be allowed to purchase one residential property up to two acres if the property is not within five miles of a military base and they have non-tourist visas.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have such things as work and student visas. One is seeking asylum in the United States, according to the lawsuit.

Examples of the numerous groups filing the friend-of-the court brief are the Center for Immigration Law, Policy and Justice at Rutgers Law School; the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at the University of California, Davis; the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at New York University School of Law; the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Tampa Bay; the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association; the South Asian Bar Association of North America; and the Japanese American Citizens League.

“The fundamental factual and legal flaw embraced by the law and the defendants is the assumption that all or many non-United States citizens or permanent residents domiciled in China are agents of the Chinese Communist Party and are controlling land on its behalf,” the brief said. “This unsupportable generalization is identical to that levied against Japanese Americans during World War II. The law targets Chinese persons based on their national origin alone, with neither evidence of ties to the Chinese Communist Party nor other particularized national security threat.”


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