Federal District Court Refuses to Halt Florida’s Discriminatory Housing Law

Plaintiffs Vow to Appeal Ruling

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
August 17, 2023 12:30 pm

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal district court judge today refused to preliminarily block SB 264, an unconstitutional Florida law banning many Chinese immigrants, including people here as professors, students, employees, and scientists, from buying a home in large swaths of the state. As a result, SB 264 remains in effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and the law firm Quinn Emanuel are representing four Chinese immigrants who live, work, study, and raise families in Florida, but are prohibited under SB 264 from buying a home, as well as Multi-Choice Realty, a local real estate firm whose business is harmed by the law.

The ruling issued today addressed the plaintiffs’ request for emergency relief and does not resolve the underlying legal arguments brought in the case.

“This law is hurting immigrants who are trying to build lives in Florida,” said Jian Song, owner of Multi-Choice Realty LLC. “As a Chinese American who has called Orlando my home for over 20 years, I’ve been extremely worried since this law went into effect.”

Under SB 264, people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and whose “domicile,” or permanent home, is in China, are prohibited from purchasing property, including homes, in Florida. The sole exception is 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.” This term is vaguely defined in the law, but there are at least 21 large military bases in Florida, many of them within five miles of cities like Orlando, Miami, and Tampa — putting many major residential and economically-important areas completely off-limits.

A similar but less restrictive rule also applies to many immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. But the law singles out people from China for especially draconian restrictions and harsher criminal penalties.

“While today’s decision is disheartening, our clients will continue to fight for their rights to equality and fairness on appeal,” said Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project. “Florida’s law legitimizes and expands housing discrimination, in violation of both the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act.”

“Today’s ruling heavily relies on a decision from the Supreme Court in 1923, a time when Asian immigrants were not allowed to become citizens, own land, or vote,” said Clay Zhu, Managing Partner of DeHeng Law Offices PC. “We shall not go back.”

In the early 20th century, politicians used similar justifications to pass “alien land laws” in California and more than a dozen other states, prohibiting Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners. These racist policies severely restricted economic opportunities for immigrants and exacerbated discrimination against Asian communities in the United States, before eventually being overturned in the courts and by state legislatures. Florida was one of the last states to repeal its “alien land law” in 2018.

“Our community will continue to fight against Florida’s unjust and racist law,” said Bethany Li, legal director at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “These types of laws use false stereotypes about Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners and have repeatedly harmed our community — from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the Japanese Americans’ incarceration during World War II, and the surveillance of South Asians in the post-9/11 period.”

“We are disappointed by today’s decision, and believe it fails to account for our clients’ constitutional and statutory rights,” said Derek Shaffer, partner at Quinn Emanuel. “In our view, which the U.S. Government has supported as an amicus, people from China should be no less welcome in Florida than they are elsewhere in the United States and free to participate in the housing market on equal footing with everyone else. Recognizing that this decision decides only our request for a preliminary injunction, we look forward to continuing this litigation and to seeking recourse on appeal.”

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