Court blocks Florida law barring Chinese citizens from owning property

A “For Sale” sign sits in front of a new home May 27, 2004 in Miami, Florida.

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A U.S. appeals court has blocked Florida from enforcing a ban on Chinese citizens owning homes or land in the state against two Chinese nationals who were in the process of buying property when the law was adopted.

A panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Thursday the individuals were likely to prevail on claims that Florida’s ban violates a federal law governing real estate purchases by foreign nationals.

A Florida federal judge in August had declined to block the law, prompting an appeal by the plaintiffs. The 11th Circuit blocked enforcement of the law against the two plaintiffs pending the outcome of the case.

Lawmakers in several Republican-led states including Texas, Louisiana and Alabama are considering similar restrictions on Chinese citizens owning property. China’s foreign ministry said last year that such laws “violate the rules of market economy and international trade rules.”

The office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Florida’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution by specifically targeting Chinese citizens, said Bethany Li, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs.

“Today’s ruling should serve as a warning to other states who are considering passing similarly racist bills, steeped in a history when Asians were ineligible for citizenship and were told they didn’t belong,” Li said in a statement.

Florida’s law prohibits individuals who are “domiciled” in China and are not U.S. citizens or green card holders from purchasing buildings or land in the state.

It also bars most citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea from owning property near military installations and infrastructure such as power plants and airports.

The law has a narrow exception, allowing holders of non-tourist visas from those countries to own a single property that is at least five miles from critical infrastructure.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said when he signed the law last May that it would help protect Americans from the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.

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