Orlando lawyer Christine Ho, 32, an associate with the downtown Orlando law firm Litchford & Christopher P.A., is active in the Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association and chairwoman of its Alien Land Law Committee. She spoke recently with Orlando Sentinel staff writer Mary Shanklin.
CFB: What is the Alien Land Law?
It’s this law from 1926, back in the day when there was a lot of discrimination against Asian immigrants. And it targeted Asian immigrants because people did not want them to own property. Florida wasn’t the only state to pass an Alien Land Law.
CFB: How did you learn about it?I originally became aware of it when it was on the ballot to be overturned in 2008.
CFB: So you were in the ballot booth when you first saw it?
Yes. I had heard about it prior to the voting. I knew it was supposed to overturn a law that was discriminatory toward Asians. But I wasn’t involved in campaigning for the ballot measure.
CFB: What did you think about it when you first heard about it?
I was trying to tell people about it because most people didn’t know about it. That day that we voted, I talked to other voters and they said they voted against it. They said they thought it had to do with illegal immigration and I said, ‘No, that’s not what it was.’ But it was too late then.
CFB: What was the ballot outcome?
It failed, with 47.9 percent voting yes [to overturn] and 52.1 percent voting no. You need 60 percent to pass.
CFB: Why do you think Florida is the last state in the U.S. to have such a law on its books?
I think people are generally not aware of it. Nobody is for discrimination. I think it’s New Mexico that recently repealed its Alien Land Law, and they had to do it twice because the original ballot wording was ‘illegal immigration.’ The second time they focused on equality, and it passed overwhelmingly.
CFB: Does it carry any weight?
It’s definitely not enforced, but it’s definitely a blot on Florida’s Constitution. The Greater Orlando American Asian Bar Association has a lot of real estate attorneys, and they’ve come across foreign investors who were concerned about this law and whether it would deter them from investing in this state, which is an important issue, particularly in this period of time.
CFB: What is being done to try to overturn that part of the constitution?
The Greater Orlando American Asian Bar Association received a grant from the Florida Bar Association to generally educate the public about it. So we’re trying to educate community leaders about this antiquated and discriminatory law. And eventually we hope to get enough support to get it on the ballot. The problem we’re facing is that, because it failed the first time, legislators might be reluctant to sponsor it again because no one wants to be associated with a failed ballot measure.
CFB: What about getting signatures to get on the ballot?
We could do that as well. It would take a lot of effort. We’re thinking of going through the courts to get it declared unconstitutional, but we’d need to find the right plaintiff. We have spoken with other Asian American bar associations in Florida, and everyone’s interested in working on this project.
CFB: What’s needed to get the 60 percent majority to overturn it?
I think the wording of the ballot measure just needs to be improved. They used the word ‘aliens’ in 2008 and that’s the main confusion spot. There have been more recent resolutions in the House and Senate in Florida and, while they have not been voted on, they have used words like ‘fairness’ and ‘equality.’ That is the type of wording that would be much more successful.
CFB: Do you think Asians have been welcomed into the real estate world in Orlando and elsewhere in Florida?
Yes, I do. I own property here. I think the Mills-50 district is part of the reason I moved here.