HomeCommunity IssuesCivil rights groups push back against Florida's land restriction bill

Civil rights groups push back against Florida’s land restriction bill

Nearly a year ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a property bill that banned Chinese nationals from buying land in Florida, especially near military instillations, airports, or refineries. Ever since them, Florida’s Chinese and Asian American population has been feeling the effects of this law, reporting discrimination and a disturbance in Florida’s property market.

In response, Asian American and civil rights groups are taking this bill, SB 264, to Florida’s federal court in a historic legal battle.

On Monday, multiple organizations, including the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., and the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches have all filed a fair housing discrimination suite.

SB 264 has been accused of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits international discrimination based on national origin. In the complaint, the plaintiffs said that SB 264 “is based on stereotyped and xenophobic generalizations and is transparently motivated by discrimination against people from the seven targeted countries.”.

On paper, the law only applies to people who are “domiciled” in China and don’t hold U.S. citizenship or permanent residency and can be punishable by five years in prison. However, sellers and real estate agents can face the same punishment for violating SB 264.

“This is a momentous day for AREAA and our 19,000 members as it is the first time we have filed suit to protect the rights of the AANHPI community,” said Jamie Tian, the president of AREAA. She further reiterated that “SB 264 must be defeated. Florida legislators and Governor DeSantis have wrongly targeted Chinese, and other select groups of immigrants. They have opened the door for greater discrimination while creating increased barriers of homeownership entry for prospective AANHPI homebuyers and sellers.”.

Both Noah Baron, Assistant Director of Litigation at Advancing Justice – AAJC, and Keenya Robertson, President and CEO of Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., have compared SB 264 to other dark chapters of American history. These include the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WW2, and alien land laws that prevented many Asian immigrants from owning property or homes.

“SB 264 is reminiscent of early twentieth century land laws that attempted to prevent Asian and other immigrants deemed undesirable from settling in the United States.”, said Robinson. She described the law as “one of the most discriminatory housing prohibitions this country has seen since the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968.”.

“Xenophobia has no place in our country—and let there be no mistake, that’s precisely what SB 264 is,” stated Baron, who likened the law to the alien land laws of the past. “The United States must not continue down this dangerous road; we know where it leads because we have traveled it before”, Baron warned.

The New York Times had interviewed more than a dozen of Florida’s Chinese residents for an article about the effects of SB 264, published on Monday. All of the interviewees voiced frustration about being barred from the American dream. Others have talked about discrimination they faced while house hunting, and how they live in fear of inadvertently violating the law.

One of the interviewees was Lisa Li, who came to the United States from China 11 years ago as a college student. She described her ordeal to buy a house as “very hurtful and tiring”. “I just feel that, as someone who has lived and worked in this country for many years, and as a legal taxpayer, at the very least I should have the ability to buy a home that I can live in”.

Li had recently purchased a one-bedroom condo in Miami’s financial district. However, she was told last-minute by the title company about a U.S. Coast Guard outpost a few miles away in South Beach. The company said that her purchase might break the law, and that she could face jail time, and the sellers and real estate agents could be held liable. The deal caved in.

SB 264 has made an impact on the real estate industry, which is a major part of Florida’s economy. Previously, developers have often relied on Chinese investors to build projects in the state. Since the law was enacted in July, there has been a lot of pushback because the law has prevented such financing.

“Every day I am getting phone calls from people asking if they can buy a house under the law”, said Yukey Hoo, a real estate agent in Orlando who has been working in the business for 10 years. “I tell them to talk to an attorney, but for those who aren’t sure about their status, we don’t want to take the risk.”. Hoo estimated that she has turned away 10 potential clients, one-fifth of her usual business, because she couldn’t determine if they were eligible or not to buy property.

Asian Americans have also said that the law has led to the profiling of anyone presumed to be Chinese, regardless of citizenship or residency. For example, one of The New York Times interviewees said that a real estate agent at an open house asked if he was eligible to buy the house after he heard him talking to his parents in Mandarin.

More than three dozen states have considered or have already enacted similar laws restricting land purchases by Chinese companies and citizens. Currently, Florida’s law has been the most extensive one passed. In addition to not being able to purchase agricultural land, most Chinese people without a green card are prohibited from purchasing residential properties.

National security experts and DeSantis himself have said that these actions are a necessary countermeasure against China. Their justification is that China could throttle America’s food supply or use it as a spy post.

State Rep. David Borrero, one SB 264’s sponsors, told The New York Times, “The deeper that you look under the hood, the deeper that you see China has been clandestinely going after land grabs in the United States”. Borrero also said that he believes that the law was not discriminatory, saying that “Our national security interests come first”.

Former FBI counterintelligence officer, Holden Tripplet, had a different opinion. “We need to be careful about these blunt instrument laws”, Tripplet said. “Let’s do the work to find out what’s happening and to see if there is another way we can address this problem”.

Chinese Americans make up 0.6% of Florida’s population. Many of them are first-generation immigrants who moved to study or work at universities. Asian Americans also take up only a few seats in Florida’s State Legislature.

A separate lawsuit filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union is now being heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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