Chinese citizens sue Florida over law barring them from owning houses

A group of Chinese citizens who live and work in Florida are suing the state over a new property law that threatens to restrict some people from China and a handful of other countries from purchasing homes and land in the state.

The plaintiffs allege that the law, SB 264, is discriminatory and that it stokes racial biases against Chinese Americans and undermines their financial freedom. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law and it is set to go into effect on July 1.

It bars Chinese citizens who are not United States citizens from purchasing homes in Florida, with few exceptions. It imposes similar but less stringent restrictions on citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea.

“Asian immigrants are part of Florida’s fabric. For hundreds of years, they have contributed to our communities and have made this state their home,” said Daniel Tilley, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“The discriminatory policies pushed by the DeSantis administration will not go unchecked,” he said.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce a bid for president soon, has said the law will protect Florida from China’s Communist Party, a common target for Republicans.

The ACLU, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a Florida law firm, which are all representing the plaintiffs, say that the law would cast “an undue burden of suspicion” on anyone trying to buy a house as long as their “name sounds remotely Asian.”

“This misguided rationale unfairly equates Chinese people with the actions of their government, and there is no evidence of national security harm resulting from real estate ownership by Chinese people in Florida,” the ACLU said in a news release.

State governments have introduced more than a dozen similar pieces of legislation in recent months. Florida’s would be the first to be enacted into law.

A spokesperson for Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, one of the defendants, said the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is reviewing the lawsuit.

Gary Fineout contributed to this story.

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