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DOJ argues DeSantis-backed law banning Chinese land ownership near Florida military bases 'unconstitutional'

The Department of Justice is arguing against a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis law month restricting Chinese nationals and the CCP from buying land near military installations.

The Justice Department argued in a new court filing this week that a Florida law restricting Chinese lane ownership by U.S. military installations and major infrastructure is unconstitutional. 

In a "statement of interest" filed in U. S. District Court in Tallahassee on Tuesday, the DOJ argues that SB 264 – signed into law last month by GOP presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA). 

FHA broadly prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability and national origin.

"These unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the State’s purported goal of increasing public safety," the Justice Department wrote. 

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The state law imposes new restrictions on persons and entities from "foreign countries of concern," defined as China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. 

It bans "foreign principals," defined as someone whose "domicile" in the People's Republic of China and not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, from owning or acquiring agricultural land or real property within ten miles of any "military installation" or "critical infrastructure facility" in Florida. 

The legislation has an exception for individuals with a valid non-tourist visa or who have been granted asylum to purchase one residential real property if the property is less than two acres in size and not within five miles of a military installation. 

The law also prohibits the "purchase or acquisition of real property by the People’s Republic of China," including by Chinese political and corporate entities. 

DeSantis has described the legislation as a way to "counteract the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the state of Florida."

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"Restricting China and other hostile foreign nations from controlling Florida’s agricultural land and lands near critical infrastructure facilities protects our state, provides long-term stability, and preserves our economic freedom," Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson similarly stated last month, according to the filing. 

"Food security is national security, and we have a responsibility to ensure Floridians have access to a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply," Simpson added in May. "China and other hostile foreign nations control hundreds of thousands of acres of critical agricultural lands in the U.S., leaving our food supply and our national security interests at risk."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing four Chinese citizens who live in Florida and a Florida brokerage firm suing the state, claims the legislation will "cast an undue burden of suspicion on anyone seeking to buy property whose name sounds remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, or Syrian." 

On May 22, plaintiffs Yifan Shen, Zhiming Xu, Xinxi Wang, Yongxin Liu, and Multi-Choice Realty, LLC filed a complaint seeking a preliminary injunction. 

The DOJ filing seeks to support that motion. U.S. District Judge Allen C. Winsor scheduled a July 18 hearing on the matter. 

DeSantis is not the only GOP presidential contender critical of the Biden administration's perceived inaction to curb the national security risk of Chinese influence on U.S. institutions. 

During her foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under the Trump administration, called out how Chinese investors have bought nearly 400,000 acres of land in the U.S., including miles of farms near sensitive military facilities. 

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"And China has taken majority control of agricultural industries," she said. "This must end. The line between Chinese investors and the Chinese Communist Party is exceptionally thin." 

"The Communist Party has abused our openness in extraordinary ways," Haley added. "It uses our economic freedom to threaten our security and food supplies – our academic freedom to corrupt our students and scholars – and our freedom of speech to spread lies and shape our laws." 

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