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Two graduate students from China and a professor filed a lawsuit against Florida education officials in an attempt to block enforcement of a new state law that restricts research exchanges between state universities and academics from seven prohibited countries. The law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, was aimed at preventing influence from governments such as the Chinese Communist government. The prohibited countries include China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela. The plaintiffs argue that the law is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and draws parallels to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami, the new law infringes on the exclusive authority of the federal government over immigration, national security, and foreign affairs. The plaintiffs, who are not affiliated with the Chinese government or Communist Party, have been directly affected by the law. Two graduate students from China have had to pause their studies at Florida International University and have been denied entry to research labs. A professor at the University of Florida from China has been unable to recruit qualified postdoctoral candidates for his research, impacting his productivity and projects.

The law allows for international students from the prohibited countries to be hired on a case-by-case basis with approval from overseeing boards, but the lawsuit argues that the lack of clear guidelines results in arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement across Florida. The plaintiffs claim that the law creates a stigma against individuals from China and of Asian descent seeking academic employment in Florida public universities and colleges. They argue that the law presumes them to be a danger to the United States, without any evidence or merit.

The lawsuit references the historical context of discriminatory laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and argues that the new law follows a similar pattern of targeting individuals based on their country of origin. The plaintiffs believe that the law has far-reaching consequences and is impacting their academic and research pursuits. The governor’s office and the state Department of Education have not responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking to overturn the law in order to resume their studies and research activities without fear of discrimination or bias based on their nationality.

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