Accusing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of enacting an unconstitutional law that would not have been out of place at the turn of the last century, a group of Chinese American immigrants on Monday filed a lawsuit against the state over S.B. 264, which restricts most Chinese citizens from purchasing homes in Florida.
The law is set to take effect on July 1, but the plaintiffs and the groups representing them—including the ACLU, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance (CALDA), and the ACLU of Florida—hope to block the measure in the courts.
"Florida's discriminatory property law is unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional," said Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries. If S.B. 264 goes into effect, it will profoundly harm our clients and countless other immigrants in Florida."
DeSantis has said the law is meant to protect the state from the Chinese Communist Party, even though, as the ACLU said, "there is no evidence of national security harm resulting from real estate ownership." Citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Iran, and North Korea would also be restricted from purchasing homes in Florida.
The law is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Fair Housing Act, said the ACLU. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing due to national origin and race as well as religion, sex, gender identity, and disability.
The plaintiffs also warned that the law will "cast an undue burden of suspicion on anyone seeking to buy property whose name sounds remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, or Syrian," and is likely to prompt harassment of Asian American people seeking to buy property.
"All Asian Americans will feel the stigma and the chilling effect created by this Florida law, just like the discriminatory laws did to our ancestors more than a hundred years ago," said Clay Zhu, co-founder of CALDA. "We shall not go back."
Despite DeSantis's claims that the law is meant to protect the state, "The reality will be that any seller, when they see a Chinese name... will think, 'Too much trouble,' and they'll refuse to sell," Echo King, a Chinese American attorney based in Orlando, Florida, toldVox last week.
S.B. 264 harkens back to the so-called "alien land laws" of the early 1900s, which prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners. In addition to harming these communities financially, the laws "severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities living in the United States" before they were finally struck down by courts and legislatures across the country.
"We have repeatedly seen how policies in the name of national security have harmed Asian Americans—from immigration restrictions, to the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans in camps, and post-9/11 surveillance," said Bethany Li, legal director for AALDEF. "Failing to call out the discriminatory impacts means our community will continue to experience racism, violence, and the erosion of rights."
DeSantis is the first Republican governor to sign a discriminatory housing bill targeting Chinese people into law, but more than a dozen state legislatures have proposed similar bills.