Chinese citizens file emergency motion to block FL law; say they’ll face financial harms and stigma

The Florida measure goes into effect July 1

By: - June 7, 2023 12:01 pm

A no trespassing sign is posted in front of a Pacific Gas and Electric electrical substation on Jan. 26, 2022 in Petaluma, Calif. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Attorneys for a group of Chinese citizens who live and work in Florida have filed an emergency motion in federal court to block a new law that bans Chinese nationals from purchasing property near military installations or critical infrastructure facilities.

The Chinese citizens in the lawsuit say they will experience a constitutional injury, unwarranted stigma and significant financial harms if the measure (SB 264) goes into effect on July 1, according to a motion filed Tuesday night in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The motion claims that if the court allows the law to go into effect next month, those citizens will be forced to cancel purchases of new homes, register their existing properties with the state under threat of severe penalties, and face the loss of significant business.

Under the measure passed recently by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents and whose “domicile” is in China, are prohibited from purchasing property in Florida.  The measure also applies to people whose permanent home is in six other “countries of concern,” including Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, Russia and Iran.

The proposal also specifically bars people from China from owning or acquiring any real property in Florida, with some exceptions.

The ACLU of Florida and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the lawsuit in coordination with the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance last month, contending that the new law will codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Fair Housing Act.

In their motion calling for a preliminary injunction, the four Chinese citizens and a real estate firm contend that the measure violates their due process because it does not adequately define or identify military installations and critical infrastructure facilities, “making it impossible for a person of ordinary intelligence to know where Florida’s new exclusion zones begin and end.”

The law creates five and ten-mile exclusion zones around those military installations and critical infrastructure facilities. Also, the motion says that the law does not define where individuals are “domiciled,” creating uncertainty about its reach for foreign citizens who live in Florida.

The motion notes how one of the plaintiffs, Yifan Shen, has signed a contract to buy a single-family home in Orlando, and that home appears to be within five miles of multiple military sites. “But because she does not know the acreage of these sites, whether each qualifies as a base, camp, post, station, yard, or center, and whether they are operated under the Department of Defense or its affiliates, it is extremely difficult for her to know whether her home is within five miles of a covered military installation,” the motion says.

The motion also states that if the law goes into effect, Shen will be forced to cancel the contract for her new home and lose a $25,000 deposit.

Another plaintiff, Xhiming Xu, is seeking asylum and is already a homeowner. The closing for a second property is in September 2023, but under the proposed law that would be prohibited. He would be forced to lose all or part of his $31,250 deposit. The motion also notes that he is currently neither a permanent resident, nor a visa holder or an asylee, so the statutes prevent him from knowing whether he will be deemed “domicile” in his country of origin.

Florida is not an outlier in crafting legislation that sets bans or limitations on Chinese nationals purchasing land in the U.S. More than a dozen states have enacted or are currently debating similar proposals that bar land purchases by foreign entities, according to the Semafor news platform.

In response, California Democrat Judy Chu and Texas Democrat Al Green recently filed federal legislation in Congress that would preempt state laws like Florida’s measure that would prohibit or restrict the purchase of real property of an individual based on their country of citizenship, and assigns the Attorney General and the Department of Justice with enforcement, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.