By Rasha Madkour
The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — Asians can be barred from owning property in Florida — or so it says in the state constitution.
Amendment 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot would repeal a 1926 amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban “aliens ineligible for citizenship” — an old code word for Asian immigrants — from buying and owning real estate. Although the provision was never enforced and was invalidated by subsequent federal court rulings, backers of Amendment 1 believe the words should still be removed from the constitution.
“It’s just not right to have institutionalized racism remain in our constitution even if it’s not enforceable,” said state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, who sponsored the ballot measure.
Other state lawmakers, however, believe the law could be used to prevent foreign terrorist groups from buying real estate here.
Florida is the only state that still has an anti-Asian land law, after New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas got rid of theirs in recent years. The campaign to repeal the provisions was inspired by the belated removal of anti-interracial marriage laws in Alabama and South Carolina about a decade ago. Law professor Gabriel Chin wondered what other racist and obsolete laws might still be on the books, and his students at the University of Cincinnati came across the alien land laws. They put together packets of information and mailed them to legislatures and newspapers in the four states that still had them.
Lawmakers in Kansas and Wyoming quickly repealed the statues. New Mexico and Florida, however, had the provisions in their constitutions, which require voter approval to change.
The challenge in Florida will be reaching the 60 percent threshold of “yes” votes without a well-funded campaign to explain the measure, backers say — especially because the mention of “aliens” could lead voters to believe it’s connected to the illegal immigration debate.
“There’s no money at stake, it’s just a matter of principle — an important principle — but there’s no payday loans or insurance industry to pay lobbyists to communicate this to anybody,” said Chin, now at the University of Arizona. “So it really does put the burden on individual people to figure out what this means and it’s not going to be easy to do it.”
Geller agrees. “If people understand what it does and what it doesn’t do, then it’ll pass,” he said. “I’m afraid it won’t.”
But not everyone sees it that way. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland was among 31 Republicans to vote against the measure, which 83 House lawmakers supported. In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously.
Ross said the provision could prove to be a useful tool, regardless of its original intent. He said because national security is at risk and the housing market is in shambles, he’s concerned a group like the Taliban could buy a development in foreclosure in the Sunshine State. ♦