In an attempt to counter the rise of laws at the state level, a House Democrat on Thursday introduced a bill that allows people to sue in federal court if their right to purchase land is restricted because of their citizenship. .
As tensions with China rise, many states have enacted or considered such laws, often targeted at China and motivated by concerns about foreign ownership of farmland or national security. Asian American groups have said the laws date back to the early 20th century and discriminatory laws that barred them from owning land.
“I don’t think we should allow 50 states the opportunity to pass laws that can affect foreign affairs, which is really the purview of the executive branch of the federal government,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Al Green (D -Texas), he told HuffPost.
“We have more than 30 states that have written or are considering laws in this area. There is a proliferation of this taking place. I don’t think we should wait until we have 30, 50, any number of different laws to act on.”
The invoice it would give federal law precedence over state laws that restrict who can buy real estate “based on the buyer’s citizenship.” It would also allow people harmed by such state laws to sue in federal court and be entitled to court-ordered relief, such as an injunction.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific US Caucus, said the state laws are similar to the Alien Land Acts of the 1850s, as well as a 1913 California law that it prohibited Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrants from owning land in the United States.
“We can’t go back to that. Those laws were struck down as unconstitutional,” he said.
Chu said there are many elderly Chinese in his district who have green cards granting residency but have not gone through the lengthy process to become citizens due to testing and lack of English proficiency.
“The steps to do it are not easy. Why should they be denied the possibility of having a condo where they can live the rest of their lives? she said.
Proponents of the laws say they are necessary to keep vital farmland in American hands and counter spying efforts by China and other adversaries near sensitive US military sites. However the the amount of US farmland owned by foreigners is smallaccording to data from the Department of Agriculture, and there is already a process led by the Treasury Department to examine proposals for foreign purchases of sensitive US companies.
Green said the bill would not interfere with location-based efforts to restrict property, such as zones around military installations, as long as they are not also based on nationality. He also said that he would fight the individualization of Asian Americans.
“The Asian community had good reason and I have good reason to be concerned about that,” he said.
“Because we can’t assume that things that happen to others won’t happen to us.”