Amendment #1 Repeals Alien Land Law of 1926 in Florida
Constitutional amendment to delete provisions authorizing Legislature to regulate or prohibit ownership, inheritance, disposition, & possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship. Amends Section 2, Article I.
[Miami, Florida — October 13, 2008] OCA-South Florida Chapter, one of 80 chapters and college affiliates of a national Asian Pacific American organization, urges Floridian voters to vote “YES” on Amendment #1 to repeal the so-called Alien land law of 1926 from the Florida Constitution.
Florida is the final and only state to still have a constitution with vestiges of racial discrimination in the book: a rule allowing legislators to ban Asian immigrants from owning land.
The laws cropped up in the early 1900’s amid fear that Asian immigrants, primarily those from Japan, would work for less than Americans on farms and saved up money to buy land. California was the first to adopt the policy in 1913 – alien land laws banned foreigners ineligible for citizenship to own or purchase any land or property based on their ethnicity.
Alien land laws
Anti-Japanese prejudice was common in the early 1900’s on the West Coast, especially in California. Some whites feared that the immigrants would take away their jobs, while others, notably farmers, were resentful of the bountiful crops raised by the Japanese farmers.
Created to ban Japanese farmers from leasing or owning property, the “alien land law” was adopted by California in 1913.
Alien Land Laws soils Florida
Similar acts were passed in other states.
Back then, Floridians were mostly worried that Japanese farmers, 30,000 of whom had been tossed off their farms by alien land laws in California, would come East.
In 1926, the law was added to the Florida Constitution in Article I, the section that lays out basic rights such as the right to own property, except in the case of “aliens ineligible for citizenship”.
At that time, only Asians were ineligible to become U.S. citizens.
The measure was meant to keep “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning land. This clause derived from two Naturalization laws: the original Naturalization Act of 1790 provided that “[a]ny alien being a free white person… may be admitted to become a citizen…” This was amended in 1870, after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, to provide that naturalization was permitted only of “aliens, being free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent”. Others were referred to as “aliens ineligible to citizenship”.
Asian immigrants were classified as neither, and thus were denied American citizenship. The 1924 Immigration Act not only barred Asians from immigrating to the United States, but also made those of Asian descent already in the United States ineligible for naturalization. Whites and blacks, however, could still become naturalized.
Repeal success and failure
In 1952, the California Supreme Court found the Alien Land Law of 1913 unconstitutional. Most states did away with the law between 1940 and 1960.
The effort to get rid of the measure where it remained was revived in 2000 by a group of University of Cincinnati law review students who discovered only four states still had it on the books, Wyoming, Kansas, New Mexico and Florida. In 2001, Wyoming and Kansas repealed their anti-Japanese laws.
But Florida and New Mexico laws were in the state constitutions, requiring voter approval to have them struck. Voters in New Mexico defeated the proposed amendment first time by a vote of 46 to 54 percent in 2004 and then 70% approved by the voters over in 2006. Leaving Florida is the final state with the law.
Action in Florida
“All of the alien land laws are now unconstitutional under federal law, but they should still be repealed,” Jack Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona who ran the Alien Land Law Project with law students of University of Cincinnati to draw attention to the issue. In 2001, over 100 legal scholars from around the nation supported this project by signing a letter calling for its removal to Florida legislature.
Since 2002, OCA-South Florida Chapter has been working with Senator Geller, former Rep. Brutus, Rep. Brise and other state legislators to push for the removal of the discriminatory language from the Florida State Constitution.
For the past 6 years, OCA-South Florida Chapter has worked with local community organizations such as NANAY Inc., Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Florida, ACLU, NAACP Miami-Dade Chapter, Florida Chinese Federation, United Chinese Association of Florida, Filipino American Coalition of Florida and many other groups throughout Florida to support the repeal of alien land law.
Finally, in May 2007, 83 State Representatives and 39 State Senators supported Senator Geller’s push to delete the “bizarre” and “racist” wording from the State Constitution .
Florida Voters will make that choice in November.
The measure of the offending provision is not apparent to the naked eye.
Ironically contained in Article I, section 2 – a portion of the constitution spelling out basic, inalienable rights – the phrase states “except that the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law.”
Ineligibility targeted people’s races not their actions
Voting to support the amendment would be “purely symbolic” because neither Asians or any other ethnic group are barred from citizenship based on their races.
Today in Florida, Americans of Asian descent own property; their rights are guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
By removing the discriminatory language to support the proposal, Floridian voters would close a final dark chapter of the state’s history – a racist law.
It should be clear that the “ineligibility” Law is targeted toward people based on race, not by their actions. This is why it was ruled as unconstitutional because it’s about who you are, not what you do.
“Although the alien land law is not enforced today and is, in fact, illegal under federal court rulings and equal-protection law and it doesn’t look right to still have this language in the 21st Century,” said Winnie Tang, OCA-South Florida Chapter President. “We have worked with the State Legislature and community groups for over 5 years and, in May 2007, won the first battle to finally place the repeal of alien land law on 2008 Ballot. Now, we need to work with voters to put the final say to remove it from the State’s Constitution.”
“These laws are still on the Florida Constitution – not because anyone still wants them there – but because there were so many racially discriminatory provisions in our state statute books that it has taken decades to find them, long after they had been declared federally unconstitutional,” says Dr. Joy Bruce, Founding President of NANAY, Inc. “To set the records straight, we are asking for the removal an 82-year-old rule from the Florida State Constitution that has never been put to use. This amendment is long overdue.”
“Florida will have this amendment relating to Property Rights/Ineligible Aliens on the November ballot. Before you cast you ballot, read and understand the amendment. Your ‘YES’ vote will remove outdated and discriminatory language from our Florida Declaration of Rights.,” stated Rita Acoba, member of Panhandle Asian Republican Women Network, Panama City.
For more information, please contact Winnie Tang or visit OCA-South Florida Chapter.