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Amendment 1

Asians can be barred from owning property in Florida -- or so it says in the state Constitution.

Amendment 1 on Tuesday's ballot would repeal a 1926 amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban "aliens ineligible for citizenship" -- an old code word for Asian immigrants -- from buying and owning real estate.

Although the provision was never enforced and was invalidated by subsequent federal court rulings, backers of Amendment 1 believe the words should still be removed from the Constitution.

"It's just not right to have institutionalized racism remain in our Constitution even if it's not enforceable," said state Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, who sponsored the ballot measure.

Other state lawmakers, however, believe the law could be used to prevent foreign terrorist groups from buying real estate here.

Florida is the only state that still has an anti-Asian land law, after New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas got rid of theirs in recent years.

Lawmakers in Kansas and Wyoming quickly repealed the statues. New Mexico and Florida, however, had the provisions in their constitutions, which require voter approval to change.

The challenge in Florida will be reaching the 60 percent threshold of "yes"' votes -- especially because the mention of "aliens" could lead voters to believe it's connected to the illegal immigration debate.

"If people understand what it does and what it doesn't do, then it'll pass," Geller said. "I'm afraid it won't."

The spate of alien land laws, as they're known, began in 1913 in California, where residents felt threatened by the farming prowess of Japanese immigrants.

At the time, people from Asia were not allowed to become U.S. citizens, so laws barring them from land ownership indirectly targeted them using "aliens ineligible for citizenship" phrasing.

State Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland said the provision could prove to be useful tool, regardless of its original intent. He said because national security is at risk and the housing market is in shambles, he's concerned a group like the Taliban could buy a development in foreclosure in the Sunshine State.

If that happens and the terrorist organization uses local property to advance their agenda, Ross said the Legislature should have the ability to regulate the conveyance of that property.

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