Florida sued for barring Chinese citizens from owning homes, land

FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends the Florida Family Policy Council Annual Dinner Gala, in Orlando

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - A group of Chinese citizens living in Florida sued the state on Monday to strike down a new law that would bar citizens of China and several other countries from owning homes and land in the state.

The four plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in the lawsuit filed in Tallahassee, Florida federal court that the state law, which takes effect July 1, is unconstitutional and violates a federal law banning housing discrimination.

The Florida Attorney General's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The law prohibits individuals who are "domiciled" in China and are not U.S. citizens or green card holders from owning buildings or land in Florida.

Florida's law also bars most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea from owning property within 10 miles of any military installation or "critical infrastructure facility" such as a power plant, airport or refinery.

The law includes a narrow exception allowing holders of non-tourist visas from these countries to own a single property that is not within five miles of critical infrastructure and not larger than two acres.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce soon that he is running for U.S. president, signed the law earlier in May, saying it would help protect Americans from the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.

People who own or acquire property in violation of the law are subject to criminal charges, fines and imprisonment.

The ACLU in Monday's lawsuit said the law violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution that guarantee equal protection and due process. The group said the state law also violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race and national origin.

The lawsuit compares Florida's law to a series of "alien land laws" that U.S. states adopted in the early 1900s barring Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land. Courts struck down most of those laws in the 1950s, though a law in Florida remained on the books until 2018, when voters passed a ballot measure to repeal it.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)