The American Civil Liberties Union sued Florida over a law championed by Governor Ron DeSantis that bars most Chinese citizens from buying homes in the state.
The law, set to take effect July 1, violates the equal protection and due process guarantees under the Constitution by prohibiting landownership based on “race, ethnicity, color, alienage, and national origin,” according to the suit filed Monday in federal court in Tallahassee.
The ACLU sued on behalf of four Chinese citizens, claiming the law “stigmatizes them and their communities, and casts a cloud of suspicion over anyone of Chinese descent who seeks to buy property in Florida.”
More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced similar bills, with many targeting people from China, the ACLU said. Florida’s law, the first to take effect, comes at a time of high tension between the US and China — including the shooting down of a spy balloon off the South Carolina coast.
The governor’s press office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Under the law, non-US citizens whose “domicile” is China are banned from buying property in Florida, while a similar rule will apply to people who permanently reside in Cuba, Venezuela or other “countries of concern.” According to the suit, exceptions will be made for people with non-tourist visas or who’ve been granted asylum, but they’ll be restricted from buying parcels larger than two acres or within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of military installations.
Individuals who fall under the law but who purchased their homes before July 1 will be required to register with the state, while violators could face criminal charges.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has defended the landownership law and two similar bills aimed at restricting China’s influence in education and data storage, saying they will “counteract the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state of Florida,” according to the suit.
“I’m proud to sign this legislation to stop the purchase of our farmland and land near our military bases and critical infrastructure by Chinese agents,” DeSantis said on May 8 in a statement about the bills.
The group that filed suit accused DeSantis of making sweeping statements about Chinese home-buyers without backing them up.
“At 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 failed to identify any nexus between real estate ownership by Chinese citizens in general and purported harm to national security.”
Most “alien land laws” in the US were repealed or struck down in the 1950s, according to the suit. Florida’s constitution was the last to include such a law, until 2018, when voters passed a ballot measure to repeal it.