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Fla.: Supreme Court Says Undocumented Immigrant Can’t Get Law License

By Rita Zeidner   4/18/2014
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Florida’s highest court has denied a law license to an unauthorized immigrant living in the United States.

Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio is prohibited under Florida law from obtaining a law license because the state legislature hasn’t passed a law permitting it, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled on March 6, 2014. The court cited a federal statute that bans states from providing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally with public benefits — including professional licenses — unless a state has passed specific legislation allowing it to do so.

The court ruled on the matter in response to an advisory opinion request from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.

Manuel Godinez-Samperio was 9 years old when his family settled unlawfully in the United States.  He graduated from Florida State University College of Law and passed the bar. Now 27, he is eligible to remain and work in the United States lawfully under a 2012 policy directive called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

DACA, however, does not give the court legal authority “to disregard the laws currently enacted by Congress and admit unauthorized immigrants into Florida Bar membership,” the court found.

In a concurring opinion, one justice said that he “reluctantly” agreed with the majority, but urged the Florida legislature to pass legislation permitting Godinez-Samperio and others like him to practice.

He noted that the Godinez-Samperio’s undocumented status and ineligibility for a law license should not brand him as morally unfit.

Ruling on a similar issue in January, the Supreme Court of California admitted an undocumented immigrant to the state bar. Its decision was governed by a new California law allowing that state’s bar to admit "an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States (who) has fulfilled the requirements for admission to practice law."

Florida Board of Bar Examiners Re: Question as to Whether Undocumented Immigrants are Eligible for Admission to the Florida Bar, Fla., No. SC11-2568 (March 6, 2014).

Rita Zeidner is a freelance business writer and former senior writer for HR Magazine.

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