Politics

Florida Supreme Court: Undocumented Immigrants Cannot Be Admitted to the Bar

by | March 7, 2014
 

By Steve Bousquet

In a long-anticipated decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Tampa immigrant and Florida State University law school graduate Jose Godinez-Samperio cannot be admitted to the Florida Bar.

But the court called on the Florida Legislature to intervene quickly to correct what it called an "injustice." When a similar set of circumstances occurred in California, that state's Legislature changed the law to allow non-citizens to become members of the Bar.

"The Florida Legislature is in the unique position to act on this integral policy question and remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this Court will bring to bear," the justices wrote.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners had asked the state's high court for an advisory opinion on the question. The court concluded that an immigrant's legal status is determined solely by federal law, and a 1996 federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving certain state "public benefits," including a professional license -- in this case, to practice law -- issued by an agency that receives state money -- in this case, the Florida Supreme Court.

The story of Godinez Samperio is well known. He came to the U.S. from Mexico at age nine with his parents, who overstayed their visas. Now 26, he's not a United States citizen. He learned English, became an Eagle Scout, was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, went to New College and the FSU law school, where he won several book awards.

"He is the type of exemplary individual the Florida Bar should strive to add to its membership," Associate Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in a concurring opinion.

Labarga, who in July will become the first Cuban-American chief justice in Florida, added:" Indeed, in many respects, the applicant's life in the United States parallels my own. He and I were brought to this great nation as young children by our hardworking immigrant parents. We both learned to read, write, and speak the English language within a short period of time. We excelled scholastically and graduated from college and law school."

(c)2014 The Miami Herald

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