The Asian American Federation of Florida (AAFF) is a 501(c)(3) coalition that aims to unity and collaboration among the various Asian Pacific American organizations and to improve the relationship of a culturally diverse Asian Pacific American community in Florida. The AAFF is a statewide organization made up of more than 70 Bangladesh, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Iranian, Korean, Laotian, Taiwanese, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese community-based organizations, businesses and media.

Tough fight ahead to remove law that once targeted Asians;

Florida last State with such amendment

Posted: 11:00 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014
By John Kennedy - Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — A Palm Beach County lawmaker is reviving an attempt to end a legacy of bias against Asian-Americans that has remained enshrined for decades at the top of the Florida Constitution.

A priority for many organizations representing more than 500,000 Asian-Americans living in Florida, the ballot proposal by Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, is still awaiting its first committee hearing in the Legislature.

But Rader and others say this election year is the time for Florida to finally erase a racial prohibition against Asian-American land ownership that has been flaunted in the constitution since 1926.

Many states once had similar Alien Land Laws – invalidated and unenforced for decades.

But Florida now is the last remaining state with a restriction still on the books. The dubious standing was reached in 2006 when New Mexico voters erased their constitutional language.

“I know I have a little bit of an uphill battle when it comes to educating people on this,” Rader said. “But on the policy matter, I know that I’m 100 percent right.”

While not widely known, the offending provision has a prominent place – Article 1, Section 2 of the constitution, which spells out basic rights of Floridians. Included is a requirement that “ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law.” This was code for Asian immigrants, prohibited from citizenship by federal immigration laws until 1952.
Asian-Americans had been the only racial group ruled “ineligible” for citizenship under federal law. And, currently, immigration status has no bearing on a person’s ability to buy or sell property.

But the provision in the constitution still stands.

“It’s a symbol, but it’s a hurtful one,” said Fely Curva, a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist of Filipino descent. “There are more than half-a-million Asian-Americans in Florida now. As Floridians, we have to think, ‘what kind of message are we sending?’”

Florida voters in 2008 did have a chance to eliminate the language.

But Amendment 1 on the ballot that fall was rejected by 52 percent of voters – an outcome many advocates now blame on a campaign to link the proposal to concerns about illegal aliens. Organizations fighting immigration changes weighed in that year. They urged supporters to keep the prohibition in the constitution – even though it has no effect.

Some still fear that the debate over immigration would again doom attempts to remove the Alien Land Law language. But advocates want to try.
Curva helped enlist Rader in the effort for the ballot proposal and he unsuccessfully pushed the idea in 2010 and again last year. But with an election year dawning, Rader said he hopes HJR 119 can be embraced by his fellow lawmakers when the Legislature convenes March 4.

Winnie Tang, president of the Asian-American Federation of Florida, said " removing the alien land language from the constitution remains a top priority for her group and others. Along with Asian-American groups and bar associations". Tang said it has gotten support from the NAACP of Florida.

Florida’s Asian-American population is 573,000, according to the 2010 Census, which represents 3 percent of the state population. The community grew at a rate of 72 percent between 2000 and 2010.

“It’s frustrating,” Tang said. “If this was just a state law, it would be easier to fix. But because it’s in the constitution, it is much more difficult. It’s worth changing, though, because it’s a terrible symbol.”

Rader is still seeking a Senate sponsor for the proposal. He also needs to get 60 percent approval from both the House and Senate to get the measure on the November ballot. Then, the proposed constitutional amendment – a rewrite of Article 1, without the alien language — would have to win support from at least 60 percent of voters to take effect.

But a governor’s race already is consuming the focus in Tallahassee. Lawmakers are weighing any proposed constitutional amendments carefully, attempting to gauge their possible effect on voter turnout.

Petition drives have successfully gotten an environmental proposal and a measure legalizing medical marijuana in Florida on this fall’s ballot. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also has talked about positioning a constitutional amendment on the future of gambling in the state. Ryan Duffy, a Weatherford spokesman, said the speaker is not limiting talk of constitutional amendments, but hadn’t been briefed on Rader’s proposal.

As a Democrat in a Republican-dominated Legislature, Rader acknowledges he faces a challenge selling any idea.

But Rader said his appeal is simple.

“To have discriminatory language in our state constitution is wrong,” Rader said. “It’s just wrong.”

Rader’s west-of Florida’s Turnpike district in Palm Beach County is near the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in western Delray Beach, built on the site of a Japanese farming colony founded in 1904 and disbanded in the 1920s. Japanese-American families who stayed on in Palm Beach County were not subject to the World War II- era internment camps that confined many others in western states.

Still, the county was not shielded from anti-Japanese backlash. One county farmer, Hedio Kobayashi, had his 500-acre farm seized by the federal government during the war years and used as the site of the Palm Beach Air Corps Technical Training Center.

Rader said the legacy of discrimination can resonate with many Florida voters.

“This has a special feel because I’m Jewish and I know there’s always the potential for discrimination out there,” Rader said. “You don’t want something authorizing that in the state constitution.”

What the law says

Article I, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution provides that “… the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law.”