What's at Stake
In May 2023, a group of Chinese citizens who live, work, study, and raise families in Florida filed a lawsuit challenging Florida’s discriminatory property law, SB 264. Signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, the legislation unfairly restricts most Chinese citizens — and most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea — from purchasing homes and other real estate in Florida after July 1, 2023.
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), are challenging Florida’s discriminatory property law, SB 264, on behalf of four individual plaintiffs and a Florida real estate brokerage firm that primarily serves clients of Chinese descent.
Signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on May 8, 2023, SB 264 unfairly restricts most Chinese citizens — and most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea — from purchasing homes in the state. The law bars people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and whose “domicile,” or permanent home, is in China, from purchasing property in Florida altogether. A similar but less restrictive rule would apply to citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, and other “countries of concern.” The sole exception is incredibly narrow: people with non-tourist visas or who have been granted asylum may purchase one residential property under two acres that is not within five miles of any military installation in the state. Notably, there are more than 20 military installations in Florida, many of them within five miles of city centers like Orlando, Miami, and Tallahassee.
Florida’s dangerous new law recalls similar efforts over the past century to weaponize false claims of “national security” against Asian immigrants and other marginalized communities. In the early 1900s, states across the country used similar justifications to pass “alien land laws” designed to prohibit Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners. These racist policies not only hurt immigrants financially, but also exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities living in the United States. Over time, these laws were struck down by the courts or were repealed by state legislatures because they violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees. Nonetheless, Asian Americans have continued to face violence and discriminatory policies ranging from the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans in camps to ongoing post-9/11 surveillance.
The plaintiffs in the case are Chinese citizens who live, work, study, and raise families in Florida, and who will be prohibited from purchasing real estate when the law goes into effect. Plaintiffs argue that SB 264 will codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent — in violation of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act. 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. The plaintiffs are seeking an order enjoining Florida from enforcing this discriminatory new law and a declaratory judgment that it is unconstitutional.
Date Filed: 05/22/2023
Court: District Court (N.D. Fla.)