The state of Florida is being sued by a group of Chinese citizens after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a new measure restricting some foreign nationals from China from purchasing property in the state.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Tallahassee on May 22, are four Chinese citizens residing in Florida and a real estate brokerage firm primarily serving Chinese and Chinese American clients.
They argue that the bill signed into law by DeSantis, known as the Interests of Foreign Countries Act, or SB 264, “imposes discriminatory prohibitions on the ownership and purchase of real property based on race, ethnicity, alienage, and national origin—and imposes especially draconian restrictions on people from China.”
The plaintiffs claimed that they will suffer serious repercussions from the bill’s restrictions if it goes into effect.
“They will be forced to cancel purchases of new homes, register their existing properties with the State under threat of severe penalties, and face the loss of significant business. 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,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit (pdf) was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance.
DeSantis signed SB 264 into law on May 8 and the measure is set to go into effect on July 1.
Speaking at a news conference at the signing, DeSantis said the legislation is aimed at combating the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and protecting American interests from foreign threats.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an Iowa GOP reception in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on May 13, 2023. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)‘Crackdown on Communist China’
“We are following through on our commitment to crackdown on communist China,” DeSantis said at the news conference.
Under the bill, any individual who is domiciled in the People’s Republic of China and who is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States is banned from directly or indirectly buying property or having a controlling interest in property in Florida.
Additionally, the legislation prohibits citizens from a “foreign country of concern” from owning properties on or within 10 miles of military installations and other “critical infrastructure” in the state.
The bill lists China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria as foreign countries of concern, while military installations are described as “a base, camp, post, station, yard, or center encompassing at least 10 contiguous acres that are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense or its affiliates.”
An exception is made for individuals with non-tourist visas or who’ve been granted asylum. They will be allowed to buy parcels of land up to two acres in size providing that it is not within 5 miles of military installations.
Additionally, the bill states that individuals impacted by the measure may continue to hold their land if they purchased it before July 1, 2023 but will need to register with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by Jan. 1, 2024.
Violators of the measure may face criminal penalties, including a charge of up to $1,000 for each day that the registration is late.
In their lawsuit against the state, plaintiffs noted that there are currently more than a dozen military installations in Florida, many of them within five miles of city centers like Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Panama City, and Key West.
“This law is unconstitutional. It violates the equal protection and due process guarantees under the U.S. Constitution; it intrudes on the federal government’s power to superintend foreign affairs, foreign investment, and national security; and it recalls the wrongful animus of similar state laws from decades past—laws that were eventually struck down by courts or repealed by legislatures,” plaintiffs wrote.
A for sale sign hangs in front of a home in Miami, Florida, on June 21, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)‘False Claims About National Security’
They further argued that the measure is in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions.
Most of the “Alien Land Laws” in the United States were repealed or struck down in the 1950s, they noted.
The lawsuit lists defendants as Wilton Simpson, Florida’s agriculture commissioner; Meredith Ivey, acting Florida secretary of economic opportunity; and Patricia Fitzgerald, chair of the Florida Real Estate Commission.
DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a 2024 presidential run, has defended SB 264 as well as a string of other bills aimed at clamping down on the CCP’s influence in the United States.
At a press conference in January, the Republican governor said, “If you look at the Chinese Communist Party, they’ve been very active throughout the Western hemisphere in gobbling up land and investing in different things.”
“And, you know, when they have interests that are opposed to ours, and you’ve seen how they’ve wielded their authority … it is not in the best interests of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases,” DeSantis added.
The measure comes as the Biden administration also continues to work on counteracting the increasing threats posed by China to U.S. national security in the wake of the downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon earlier this year.
In a statement Monday announcing the lawsuit, ACLU said laws such as SB 264 “are based on false claims about national security.”
“There’s no evidence that real estate purchases by people from China are causing harm, but there is a long history of similar policies making discrimination and violence against immigrants worse,” ACLU said.
The nonprofit vowed to continue to “fight back against this racist policy” which they said is “unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional.”
The Epoch Times has contacted a spokesperson for DeSantis for comment.