The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Florida over a law championed by Governor Ron DeSantis that bars most Chinese citizens from buying homes in the state.
The law, which is due to take effect July 1, violates equal protection and due process guarantees under the Constitution by prohibiting land ownership based on “race, ethnicity, color, ‘alienation and national origin’, according to the suit filed Monday in federal court in Tallahassee.
The ACLU sued on behalf of four Chinese citizens, saying the law “stigmatizes them and their communities, and casts a cloud of suspicion on anyone of Chinese descent who seeks to purchase property in Florida.”
More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced similar bills, many of which target people from China, the ACLU said. The Florida law, the first to go into effect, comes at a time when high tension between the United States and China – including the downing of a spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
The governor’s press office did not respond to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Under the law, non-US citizens whose “domicile” is China are barred from buying property in Florida, while a similar rule will apply to people who are permanent residents of Cuba. in Venezuela or other “countries of concern”. According to the lawsuit, exceptions will be made for people on non-tourist visas or who have been granted asylum, but they will be prohibited from purchasing plots larger than two acres or within 8 kilometers of military installations.
People who fall under the law but bought their homes before July 1 will have to register with the state, while violators could face criminal charges.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, defended the Land Ownership Act and two similar bills aimed at restricting China’s influence in education and data storage, saying they will “thwart the evil influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the State of Florida,” according to the suit.
“I am proud to sign this legislation to end the purchase of our farmland and land near our military bases and critical infrastructure by Chinese agents,” DeSantis said May 8. in a report on invoices.
The group that sued accused DeSantis of making sweeping statements about Chinese homebuyers without supporting them.
“During his press conference, Governor DeSantis presented no evidence that Chinese buyers of property in Florida are agents of the Chinese Communist Party or have caused harm to national security,” the ACLU said. “Indeed, the State of Florida has not identified any link between the real estate ownership of Chinese citizens in general and the alleged harm to national security.”
Most “foreign land laws” in the United States were repealed or struck down in the 1950s, according to the lawsuit. Florida’s constitution was the last to include such a law, until 2018 when voters passed a ballot measure to repeal it.