On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law a series of discriminatory bills that will restrict Chinese people from buying land in the state under the guise of protecting national security.
DeSantis signed Senate Bills 264, 846 and 258 into law, parroting xenophobic claims that the bills will restrict Chinese residents in the state from engaging in espionage on American soil.
SB 264 will limit Chinese citizens to purchasing land that is smaller than two acres, which must be at least five miles away from military installations. SB 846 will restrict employees of colleges and universities from accepting gifts from other colleges or universities of a foreign country “of concern,” which includes China. And SB 258 will require the state to “create a list of prohibited applications owned by a foreign principal or foreign countries of concern” — which, again, includes China — if they present a supposed “cybersecurity and data privacy risk.”
“Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party,” DeSantis said in a statement.
Chinese residents and Chinese Americans have condemned the legislation as racist and harmful.
“My concern is this bill will affect people like me who want to own a home. We’re scared, we’re terrified,”college student Victoria Li told USA Today. “That’s what we came here for. We have the American dream. That’s why, at my age, I’m still going to school.”
“I won’t be able to buy a house here in Florida,” said Zihua Hé, an H-1B visa holder.
H-1B visa holders are nonimmigrant foreign nationals who “perform services in a specialty occupation, services of exceptional merit and ability relating to a Department of Defense,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Critics of the bills have expressed concern that the legislation will fan the flames of Sinophobia and anti-Asian racism among Florida residents and across the country. In recent years, Republicans have seized upon China as a political boogeyman, blaming China for everything from the spread of coronavirus to supposed lessons on critical race theory in schools. Largely as a result of fearmongering around China, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 339 percent in 2021 alone.
The anti-Chinese bills are backed primarily by Republicans, but also have the support of several Democratic state legislators.
On Saturday, prior to DeSantis signing the bills into law, a group of Chinese Americans protested the measures outside the state Capitol building. Holding signs that read “Equality for all” and “No anti-Asian Bill,” dozens of demonstrators decried state legislators from both parties for backing the bills.
Several Asian Americans — including children — spoke out against the bills during public commenting periods. Some noted that the bills will result in racial discrimination from sellers of properties, who may be dissuaded from selling land to people who appear Asian.
“I want to ask a question: Did Chinese people do something bad to Florida?” 8-year-old Manman Chen asked legislators last month. “Why does the government not allow them to purchase property? I only get punishment when I do something wrong.”
House Democratic leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who opposed the legislation, noted that the bills fail to clearly define who is restricted from purchasing land.
“Because we have a lack of definitions, if they were viewed to be overbroad, we could veering into the area of national origin discrimination,” Driskell said.
Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle derided protesters, falsely claiming they were bused in from out-of-state. However, analyses of those who registered complaints against the bills show that almost all dissenters were from Florida.
“I’m not CCP. Why would they think that?” Orlando-based immigration attorney Echo King, who was born in China but has resided in Florida for several years, told The Tallahassee Democrat.
King went on to add that allegations that she and other Chinese Americans protesting the bills were not from Florida were frightening.
“I am afraid because already there’s all kinds of rumors about me. But the thing is they can’t silence us,” said King. “If I don’t stand up, what am I going to do?”
There is a storied and ugly history of the U.S. passing laws restricting Asian Americans from owning land, Princeton history professor Beth Lew-Williams noted in an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
“Whether or not they know it, Florida lawmakers are proposing to revive anti-Chinese laws from long ago,” Lew-Williams said, citing numerous examples from the 1850s onward.
It is a sad truth that our Asian Pacific American heritage is bound up in this history of discrimination. Our communities in the U.S. formed amid a litany of local, state and federal laws that targeted Asian immigrants.