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ACLU Sues Florida Over "Discriminatory" Law Banning Chinese and Other Foreigners From Buying Some State Land

Ulf Wittrock/Ulf -

Florida - Tuesday May 23, 2023: A group of Chinese citizens living and working in Florida, as well as a real estate brokerage firm in Florida that primarily serves clients of Chinese descent sued the state Monday over a new law that bans Chinese nationals from purchasing property in large swaths of the state.

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).

Governor DeSantis signed Senate Bill 264 into law on May 8. It takes effect on July 1. The law applies to properties within 10 miles of military installations and other “critical infrastructure”. It also prohibits the purchase of agriculture land. In addition to Chinese nationals, it also affects citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. But Chinese citizens and those selling property to them face the harshest penalties.

It will be a felony for Chinese people to buy property in restricted areas or for any person or real estate company to knowingly sell to restricted people. For the other targeted nations, the penalty is a misdemeanor for buyers and sellers.

The law “will codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent in violation of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act,” the ACLU said in its news release announcing the suit. “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.”

In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the law will have a substantial chilling effect on sales to Chinese and Asian people who can legally buy property. The suit also says the law unfairly equates Chinese people with the actions of their government and there is no evidence of national security risk from Chinese citizens buying Florida property.

Governor DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential campaign this week, signed the bill May 8. His office didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.