Florida Record: Appeals court blocks Florida from enforcing property restrictions against 2 Chinese citizens

Image for Florida Record: Appeals court blocks Florida from enforcing property restrictions against 2 Chinese citizens
Credit: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat

By Michael Carroll

Two plaintiffs who are challenging the constitutionality of a Florida law that restricts Chinese citizens from owning property in the state won a temporary injunction earlier this month barring state officials from enforcing the law against them.

Yifan Shen and Zhiming Xu received the favorable ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb 1. The injunction ensures that the new law, Senate Bill 264, won’t be enforced against the two Chinese immigrants pending a future decision on the merits of their case.

SB 264, which became law last year, bars many Chinese citizens living in the state, including students, professors and scientists, from buying a home or land in Florida. Those with non-tourist visas or those who receive asylum, however, can purchase a residential property under 2 acres in size, provided the property is not within five miles of a military installation.

Less detailed restrictions also apply to citizens of the Russian Federation, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria, under the provisions of SB 264.

The appeals court ruling indicated that the plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of success in their argument that the state law is preempted by federal statutes, in particular the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018.

“The balance of equities tips in (the two plaintiffs’) favor because their recent and pending transactions create the most imminent risk of irreparable harm in the absence of a stay,” the court’s opinion states. “... This limited equitable relief is further justified in light of the expedited nature of this appeal: Oral argument has been set for only a few months away. …”

The Florida Governor’s Office expressed disagreement with the 11th Circuit’s ruling.

“... Our law is still very much in effect, we are confident in our legal position on the merits, and we will continue to fight back against foreign malign influence in Florida,” the governor’s deputy press secretary, Julia Friedland, said in a statement emailed to the Florida Record.

The groups representing the Chinese immigrants – the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, DeHeng Law Offices PC and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) – equate the new Florida law to “alien land laws” passed in the early 20th century in California and other states. Those laws prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land.

“Florida's alien land law specifically targets Chinese individuals in clear violation of the equal protection clause,” Bethany Li, AALDEF’s legal director, said in a prepared statement. “(The Feb. 1) ruling should serve as a warning to other states that are considering passing similarly racist bills, steeped in a history when Asians were ineligible for citizenship and were told they didn’t belong.”

The AALDEF has also pointed out that Congress has already attempted to address property-ownership concerns about foreign nationals living in the U.S. through a national security review of real estate purchases by such individuals.

“The court’s decision brings two of our clients tremendous relief, and we will continue fighting to prevent this law from being enforced more broadly,” Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.


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