A group of Chinese citizens are suing the state of Florida over a new law that restricts their ability to buy property in the state.
“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 lawsuit says (pdf). “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 law, called SB 264, was championed by Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who plans to announce his presidential campaign on May 24. Set to take effect July 1, the law prohibits certain foreign nationals—including those from China—from buying agricultural land or property within 10 miles of a military installment, which effectively excludes them from a large swath of the state.
The plaintiffs in the case are four Chinese immigrants residing in Florida—a registered dietician on an H1-B visa, a political asylee, a doctoral student, and a data science professor—as well as a real estate brokerage in the state primarily serving Chinese-speaking clients.
“Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat—the Chinese Communist Party,” DeSantis wrote on May 8 when he signed the bill into law. Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
“Unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing the plaintiffs, wrote that the law will “codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent in violation of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act.”
The complaint alleges that the state is violating the plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights under the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, is infringing on their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act, and is unlawfully preempting the federal government’s power to set foreign policy in violation of the Constitution’s supremacy clause.
“Florida’s discriminatory property law is unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional,” Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU wrote in a statement. “Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries. If SB 264 goes into effect, it will profoundly harm our clients and countless other immigrants in Florida.”
The Florida law does not solely affect Chinese citizens: It also applies to foreign nationals from Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. But the penalties for violating the law are much stricter for Chinese nationals, who could face up to five years in prison.