Florida’s Alien Land Law: The Last Vestige of Discrimination
By: Christine M. Ho, Esquire
Chair of the Alien Land Law Committee,
Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association
Tom, a Vietnamese restaurant owner, worked hard all of his life and saved up some money to buy a house. Every weekend, he shopped with his wife and two small children for their dream home in a suburb of Orlando. With the help of his realtor, he finally found the house. It had four bedrooms with a pool and a white picket fence. At closing, the seller said, “Wait a minute. I am not going to sell this house to you because Asians cannot legally own a house in Florida.”
You would think the seller is crazy and is not telling you the truth. Shockingly, the seller is correct. In Florida, a little known law holds that people of Asian descent cannot own real estate in Florida!
This law prohibiting Asians from owning real property is known as the “Alien Land Law” and was passed in 1926. The Alien Land Law targeted Asian immigrants and was intended to prevent them, as well as other immigrants, from owning real estate in the State of Florida.
Many other states in the Union also passed similar alien land laws as a result of the increasing racism against Asian immigrants during the first quarter of the twentieth century. In 1913, California was the first state to pass an alien land law. California’s alien land law stemmed from the racial animosity against Japanese farmers who had recently moved to California and had started acquiring and owning agricultural land. By the end of World War II with anti-Asian sentiment at an all time high, Arizona, Washington, Louisiana, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, and Arkansas had all passed their own versions of the alien land law. Since that time, all of these states have repealed their alien land laws.
Florida is the only state in the United States that has not repealed its Alien Land Law. Florida alone retains this discriminatory and racist law in its Constitution.
Even more surprising is that the recent attempt to repeal Florida’s Alien Land Law failed. In November 2008, Florida voted on the proposed Amendment 1, which attempted to repeal Florida’s Alien Land Law. The ballot title was “Declaration of Rights,” and the text was as follows:
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.
Ultimately, Amendment 1 failed by a vote of 47.9% (3,369,894 votes) to 52.1% (3,669,812 votes). Sixty percent (60%) was required to pass the ballot measure. In hindsight, supporters of Amendment 1 have admitted that the language of Amendment 1, which contained the term “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” may have confused the public into believing that Amendment 1 concerned illegal immigration. Moreover, recent legislative efforts seeking to repeal the Alien Land Law in 2009 and 2010 have failed to get the issue on the ballot.
Given its unusual and ambiguous name and the prior confusion of the Alien Land Law being related to illegal immigration, the public needs to become more informed and understand what the Alien Land Law is and the history behind it. In June 2010, the Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association (“GOAABA”) received a grant from the Florida Bar Foundation in order to educate the public about Florida’s Alien Land Law.
Jessica Hew, the President of GOAABA, stated, “GOAABA is grateful for the support of the Florida Bar Foundation in providing the grant funds needed to address the ‘Alien Land Law,’ a discriminatory provision contained within the Florida Constitution.” Ms. Hew further noted, “While the provision directly affects all aliens ineligible for citizenship, the provision also affects each Floridian by supporting discriminatory practices, similar to the ‘Jim Crow’ laws of the Old South. The origins of the law are rooted in the Asian populations who worked in the West to settle America, notably the derogatorily named ‘Coolies’ who built the railroads, and is thus particularly offensive to the Asian American population. All Floridians need to address this discriminatory issue, as Florida is the last state in the United States to maintain such an antiquated and unenforceable provision of law.”
GOAABA will be hosting an educational event concerning Florida’s Alien Land Law in August 2011 (date and venue TBA). The Florida Bar Foundation provides support to this event.
*** To print PDF flyer, click below ***
Alien Land Law flyer – GOAABA 2011