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Florida’s Anti-chinese Law Driven by Domestic Politics, Faces Legal Challenge

WASHINGTON – Next Tuesday, a judge in Florida will hear a challenge to a law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in May that bans Chinese nationals or Chinese who have “domicile” in China from buying property in the state.

Critics see Florida Senate Bill 264, which took effect on July 1, as Mr DeSantis’ attempt to burnish his nationalist credentials as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination for the 2024 election.

They also see it as an example of how geopolitical competition with China and anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States can turn into xenophobia when stoked by domestic politics.

The law has been compared to the infamous 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the only major US law ever implemented to prevent a specific national group from immigrating to the US.

But expectations are that the judge will grant an injunction – though that itself will also be appealed, in what could be a long legal to and fro.

On June 27, the Department of Justice (DOJ) weighed in, saying “unlawful provisions” in the law “will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the State’s purported goal of increasing public safety”.

“Florida has yet to identify any legitimate connection between protecting the state and prohibiting individuals who simply come from ‘foreign countries of concern’ from purchasing or owning real property,” it said.

The law has sent a chill through Chinese Americans.

“My community, lots of people, are scared,” said Ms Echo King, an attorney based in Orlando, Florida.

“The reality will be that any seller, when they see a Chinese name… will think, ‘Too much trouble,’ and they’ll refuse to sell,” told the journal Vox in May.

Under the new law, individuals who were born in China but are not yet US citizens or green card holders cannot purchase or own any land or building, commercial or otherwise, in Florida.

The law – which is not retroactive – lists “countries of concern”, which besides China includes Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela.

But it is obvious that the real target is China.

“Today is one example of Florida really leading the nation in terms of what we’re doing to stop the influence of the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr DeSantis said at a press conference on May 8, the day he signed the law.

The legal challenge that will be heard next Tuesday has been filed by a group of Chinese citizens who live in Florida and a real estate firm in Florida that primarily serves clients of Chinese descent.

They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), DeHeng Law Offices PC, and the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund, in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance.

ACLU said: “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.”

It added: “Florida’s dangerous new law recalls similar efforts over the past century to weaponise false claims of ‘national security’ against Asian immigrants and other marginalised communities.”

Several other states have passed laws curbing Chinese entities from buying certain kinds of property, said Mr Clay Zhu, an attorney and managing partner at DeHeng Law Offices in California.

“Some target specifically the Chinese government or state-owned enterprises; some target people or entities associated with the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party. But the Florida law has the broadest scope,” he told The Straits Times.

“Chinese and Japanese immigrants were not allowed to own land under the Alien Land Laws more than a hundred years ago, and Florida has just turned the clock back,” he added.

“It’s about politics,” he said. “It’s about the next election. A lot of the red (Republican) states, Florida in particular because the governor is running for President, are trying to be so-called ‘tough on China’.”

Source : TheStraitsTimes