Florida Supreme Court to Determine if Illegal Immigrant Can Become Lawyer

26-year-old Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio from Mexico graduated law school and passed the Florida Bar Exam.   He came to the U.S. with his parents at the age of 9, and stayed after their tourist visas expired. 

Godinez-Samperio disclosed to the Board of Bar Examiners that he was an undocumented immigrant, obtaining a waiver of the Board’s requirement to show residency.  After he passed the bar exam, the case went to the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether or not Godinez-Samperio should be granted a law license in Florida.

This case is one of the latest to test President Barack Obama’s new policy of granting temporary work permits to young illegal immigrants against states that seek to crack down on illegal immigration.  Better known as “deferred action for childhood arrivals,” the policy protects illegal immigrants 15 to 30 years old from being deported for at least 2 years, and allows them to obtain work permits.

Justice Canady cited a 1996 federal immigration law suggesting that it would preclude Godinez-Samperio from practicing as a lawyer.  Other justices questioned whether Godinez-Samperio would even legally be able to work even if he was granted his law license.  

In August 2012, the U.S. Justice Department told California’s Supreme Court in a similar case that it should not allow an illegal immigrant, Sergio Garcia, to practice law in California despite passing the bar exam.  Similarly, the Florida Supreme Court questioned last month at oral arguments whether the Justice Department should be consulted in this case as well.  

A similar case is developing in New York, although that case has not yet gone to court. 

-Jonathan A. Klurfeld, Esq.


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