Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court last week ruled that the state bar can deny a law license to undocumented immigrants. The ruling means that FSU law school graduate Jose Godinez-Samperio, and other undocumented immigrants, cannot be admitted to the Florida bar--at least for now.
At the same time, concurring justices called on the state legislature to change Florida law to allow admission of certain unauthorized aliens, following California's recent lead. See In re Garcia.
The question came to the court by way of a certified question of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners on the application of Gordinez-Samperio. Gordinez-Samperio came to the U.S. when he was nine years old with his parents, who overstayed their visas. He learned English, became an Eagle Scout, was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, and attended New College of FSU. But he's undocumented.
The court cited federal law that states that aliens are not "eligible for any State . . . public benefit," including "any . . . professional license," unless they are "qualified alien[s]," nonimmigrant aliens, or aliens who are "paroled" into the United States for less than one year. Federal law also allows states to override this provision, but only "through the enactment of a State law after August 22, 1996, which affirmatively provides for such eligibility."
The court said that there was no such state law.
It also rejected the argument that applicants who have been granted status under the deferred action program, DACA, announced by President Obama in June 2012, were not exempt from the bar on state professional licenses. The court, quoting DACA, said that DACA is "an act of prosecutorial discretion . . . [and] [d]eferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status."
Gordinez-Samperio and other undocumented immigrants can still get bar membership, if the state legislature allows for it--as California did in the Garcia case.