Eight-year-old Manman Chen testified before the House State Affairs Committee on April 19, 2023 (photo credit: screenshot from the Florida Channel).
Zheng Dauble says she has lived in the United States for 25 years and loves the country, but recently, when she was shopping with her 10-year-old boy, she heard someone yelling at her: “Go back to China.”
“I never meet this person,” she says. “The only reason is because I am Asian.”
Zheng Dauble was one of dozens of Chinese-Americans who came to the state Capitol this week to testify against a legislative proposal (HB 1355) that would ban the sale of agriculture land and property within 20 miles of military bases and other critical infrastructure facilities to interests tied to the Chinese government and six other “countries of concern.”
The Chinese-Americans who signed up to speak against the measure said it could lead to more hate crimes and discrimination against their community.
“I’m 8 years old,” said Manman Chen. “I want to ask a question: Did Chinese people do something bad to Florida? Why does the government not allow them to purchase property. I only get punishment when I do something wrong.”
Some of the speakers specifically referred to Section 5 of the proposal, which says that at the time of purchasing agricultural land, the buyer must provide an affidavit attesting that they are not a “foreign principal.”
“I’m here for my children and grandchildren, so that when they buy property they don’t have to sign that paper that says ‘I am not Chinese,’” said Ann Hall. “To be Chinese is to be proud of (that).”
Echo King, an attorney from Orlando, said she understood the national security provisions of the legislation “and completely support that, but we think the bill has unintended consequences.”
Guanyi Lu is an assistant professor at Florida State University. He said the bill would compel property owners not to sell their land to anyone who looks Chinese-American.
Grace Fang said she has lived in Orlando for 23 years. “We want this to make place as our homes, and this is very cruel for whomever proposed or votes yes on this bill.”
Candi Churchill is with the United Faculty of Florida. She said that the bill encourages “xenophobia and hate.”
Some speakers compared the legislation to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1882 law that banned Chinese laborers from immigration to the U.S. for a decade.
Missouri Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley introduced the “This Land is our Land Act” last month, which would ban Chinese corporations and individuals associated with the Chinese Community Party from owning U.S. agricultural land. In addition, a bipartisan group of members from Congress recently sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the Department of Agriculture’s lack of oversight of foreign acquisition of U.S. agricultural land.
According to a legislative analysis, of the more than 21 million acres of the privately owned land in Florida, more than 6 percent is held by foreign nationals, which is among the highest proportions in the U.S.
The House bill has bipartisan support, with Miami-Dade Republican David Borrero and Palm Beach Democrat Katherine Waldron, the lead co-sponsors of the proposal.
“This is meant to be proactive and not reactive,” Waldron told the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. She mentioned recent events in the news as reasons why the measure was necessary, including the U.S. Department of Justice’s arrest of two Americans this week for operating a secret Chinese police station in New York City.
Along with China, the other foreign “countries of concern” listed in the legislation refer to Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria and “the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro.”
The measure would also prevent Florida government agencies from entering contracts involving access to personal information with entities tied to countries of concern. And it would require health-care providers to ensure electronic technology keeps patient information within the continental United States.
Under the legislation, a foreign principal means the government or any official of the government of a foreign country of concern; a political party member in a foreign party of concern; a partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country of concern or a
subsidiary of such entity; or any person who is domiciled in a foreign country of concern and is not a citizen of the U.S.
or lawful permanent resident of the United States.
The legislation says that a foreign principal may continue to own hold such land before July 1 of 2023, but they would be prohibited from purchasing or otherwise acquiring any additional land or interest in such land in the state.
Many of the Democrats on the committee said that they believed that the intentions of the bill sponsors were well intentioned, but they couldn’t support it in its current form.
This was this bill’s last stop in the state House, and it now moves to the full chamber for a vote. Its Senate equivalent (SB 264) was approved unanimously by that chamber last week.
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