Continue to Fight the Repeal Alien Land Law 1926

[Miami, Florida — November 9, 2008] OCA-South Florida Chapter, one of 80 chapters and college affiliates of a national Asian Pacific American organization, is disappointed that Amendment 1 — Alien Land Law 1926 — was defeated on Tuesday, 11/4/08, apparently because some voters incorrectly assumed it would prevent illegal immigrants from owning property.

On the day when Florida helped make history by giving its Electoral College votes to the first African-American president, Florida also voted to keep, in its Constitution, an 80-year-old discriminatory provision that every other state has purged from its governing document.

On November 4, 52% of Florida voters voted “No” to keep this outdated provision. By opposing this measure, some voters erroneously believed this old law could be used to prevent foreign terrorist groups or illegal immigrants from buying real estate.

Most importantly, 48% of over 3.4 million Floridians (including most civil rights and immigrant groups) supported this initiative without any resistance.

Here is a brief history behind this provision.

The Alien Land Law was originated in the early 1900s. It was feared that Asian immigrants, primarily those from Japan, would work for less on farms and saved up money to buy land. American farmers felt threatened. In 1913, California was the first state to adopt the policy of “alien land laws” banning foreigners ineligible for citizenship to own or purchase any land or property based on their ethnicity. At that time, Asian immigrants were the only group not permitted to become citizens.

In 1926, the law was added to the Florida Constitution in Article I, Section 2 because Floridians worried that Japanese farmers, 30,000 of whom had been tossed off their farms by alien land laws in California, would come East.

This measure was based on 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 be 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-American groups began a state-by-state campaign to remove this vestige of the Jim Crow era. Kansas, Wyoming and New Mexico were the most recent states to do so. Florida should have done so on Tuesday, 11/4.

Prior to the Election, Florida voters were confused with the language of Amendment 1 on the long paper ballot. They wanted to know what a “Yes” vote would mean, since it read, “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.”

After Election 2008, Florida remains the only state to still have such an outdated law in its Constitution.

“OCA doesn’t think the defeat of the Amendment 1 meant that Floridians are against Asian Americans. This is simply a misinterpretation of the language,” states Winnie Tang, President of Organization of Chinese American – South Florida Chapter. “Even an attorney friend of mine thought that a “No” vote would delete the provision.”

“After this defeat of six years hard-work, it only energizes us to work more closely with the state legislature to get this in the 2010 ballot,” continued Tang. “We would like to thank the media for getting this information to the public and a coalition will be formed so that we will be better prepared for 2010.”

“It is unfortunate that the language of the provision was unclear and may have allowed people to believe that this law would help illegal immigrants gain benefits or access,” voices Josephine Gordy, member of the Miami-Dade County of Asian American Advisory Board. “We will continue our efforts to outreach and educate the public on this part of our state history.”

“Although this law is not enforceable, we need to delete it from the Constitution,” states Dr. Joy Bruce, President of NANAY. “Otherwise, this will be kept in the book from generation to generation as it is now. That’s why we will continue to fight until it gets deleted.”

“As I had experienced the climate in which language such as the Alien Land Law was acceptable, it is with great satisfaction that I see that almost all the states have rescinded this law,” states Dennis Murasaki, member of Japanese American Citizen League – Atlanta Chapter. “With time Florida voters also will remove this law, closing a dark chapter in our country’s history.”

For more information, please contact Winnie Tang at 305-753-8791 or visit OCA-South Florida Chapter.


New York Times Article:

In Florida, an Initiative Intended to End Bias Is Killed

DW News of New York Article in Chinese:

DW News: Obama’s victory doesn’t help to remove dicriminated against Asian’s Constitution (Translated Title)


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