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Florida Court Reviews Controversial Law Restricting Chinese Ownership of Property

A group of plaintiffs has urged a federal appeals court to block a new Florida law that restricts people from China from owning property in the state. They argue that the law constitutes unconstitutional and egregious national-origin discrimination and violates the federal Fair Housing Act. The plaintiffs took their case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a U.S. District Judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the law in August.

The law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis and passed by the state’s Republican-led Legislature, aims to curb the influence of the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party in Florida. It applies to people from several “foreign countries of concern,” including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria. However, the lawsuit focuses on the part of the law that specifically imposes restrictions on people from China who are not U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.

This part of the law prevents people “domiciled” in China from purchasing property in Florida, with some exceptions, such as allowing individuals to purchase one residential property up to two acres if the property is not within five miles of a military base and they have non-tourist visas. The lawsuit argues that this law disproportionately targets Chinese nationals and constitutes discrimination based on national origin.

The plaintiffs assert that the law’s reference to “domicile” in China is a proxy for national origin, as virtually everyone domiciled in China is of Chinese national origin. They argue that the law’s reliance on domicile to determine eligibility for property ownership is a form of discrimination, which violates the Fair Housing Act.

While the U.S. District Judge who rejected the preliminary injunction argued that the law is facially neutral and does not discriminate based on race or national origin, the plaintiffs contend that it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and harks back to a history of racial discrimination against Asian Americans, including past “alien land laws” that restricted Asians’ land ownership rights in the United States.

The outcome of the case will depend on the legal arguments presented to the federal appeals court and how they interpret the law’s intent and its impact on Chinese nationals.

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