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70 Years After U.S. Repeals Chinese Exclusion Act, Fla.'s Still Stands

Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/locosteve/5997532687/in/photolist-a8YVvZ-a8ZUjD-bp1y1W-dz79WJ-drmWUX-d7Jc15-e1i6t1-em254J-aKKzA8/
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was crafted to prevent more Chinese laborers from entering the country. Pictured is a statue of a couple of Chinese rail workers, taken just outside the San Luis Obispo Amtrak Station.

70 years ago this week President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ended sixty years of codified racial oppression when he signed a bill repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act. Now, Asian-Americans in Florida are asking state lawmakers to do the same by nixing a constitutional provision banning Asians from owning property in the Sunshine State.

More than thirty states, including Florida, followed the federal government’s lead in 1882 by passing laws and amendments that excluded Asian-Americans from the full rights of citizenship. Every state repealed those unconstitutional provisions except for Florida, whose statute barring Asian citizens from owning property remains on the books. However, legal scholars agree the law is unenforceable and if challenged, would be held unconstitutional. Soma Sundaram, Chairman of the Asian Coalition of Tallahassee, called the law a racist relic that should be reversed.

“Why do you want to have something that looks so bad in 21st century Florida? Where all people have moved on and the state is welcoming everybody,” Sundaram during an interview Tuesday. “ We are enjoying one of the most beautiful, welcoming states. We are living here with no problem at all. Why do you have a law that cannot be enforced? It looks racist when you look at it in the books.”

The provision bans ‘aliens’ from owning property.  At the time the term was a code word for Asian-American. Groups like Sundaram’s tried to get the law repealed by voter referendum in 2000 and again in 2008 but the effort was defeated both times because voters interpreted the term “alien” to mean “illegal immigrant”.