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Supreme Court Calls on Florida Legislature to Legalize Right of Undocumented Immigrant “Dreamers” To Practice Law

| March 7, 2014

A page from Jose-Godinez Samperio's Mecican passport.

A page from Jose-Godinez Samperio’s Mecican passport.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that undocumented immigrants cannot be admitted to The Florida Bar, calling on the Legislature to change state law to allow so-called “Dreamers” to become attorneys.

Jose Godinez-Samperio, who came to the United States at age 9 from Mexico and later graduated from law school at Florida State University, passed the Bar exam more than two years ago. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners asked the court for an opinion about whether Godinez-Samperio and other undocumented immigrants are eligible to practice law in the state.

Godinez-Samperio’s lawyers argued that, because he had received a status known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” from the Obama administration and would not be deported, the Eagle Scout and high school valedictorian should be permitted to become a lawyer.

But despite his long list of accomplishments, the court ruled that Godinez-Samperio cannot be admitted to the bar unless the Florida Legislature changes state law, as California lawmakers did last year. Federal law prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving certain state public “benefits,” including professional licenses, unless states enact laws to allow certain classes of immigrants to receive those benefits, the court decided. California recently became the first state in the country to allow undocumented immigrants to receive law licenses based on a similar case.

The deferred status granted to students like Godinez-Samperio — called “Dreamers” because of federal legislation known as the “Dream Act” — is not the equivalent of permanent U.S. citizenship and “does not provide a path to permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship,” the court ruled.

The Supreme Court was powerless to do what it wished it could have done.

“These policies do not provide this court with legal authority to disregard the laws currently enacted by Congress and admit unauthorized immigrants into Florida Bar membership,” the majority wrote in an 11-page opinion.

Godinez-Samperio, who works for Gulf Coast Legal Services in Tampa, said he was disappointed and angered by the decision but placed the blame on Congress.

“They have failed to take action on immigration reform. They have failed to take action on Dreamers. And actually I’m feeling outraged at the president as well,” Godinez-Samperio, 26, said in a telephone call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers wrote in a brief, filed at the request of the court, that “unlawfully present aliens” like Godinez-Samperio should not be admitted into the Bar.

In a separate lengthy opinion Thursday, Justice Jorge Labarga, who in July will become the state’s first Cuban-American chief justice, “reluctantly” agreed with the majority, writing that “in many respects, the applicant’s life in the United States parallels my own.”

Both were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents “by our hardworking immigrant parents,” learned English, excelled academically and graduated from law school. “Sadly, however, here the similarities end and the perceptions of our accomplishments begin,” Labarga wrote.

Labarga’s family members were welcomed to the country after leaving Cuba in 1963 and “were perceived as defectors from a tyrannical communist regime,” he wrote.

In contrast, Godinez-Samperio, “who is perceived to be a defector from poverty, is viewed negatively because his family sought an opportunity for economic prosperity,” Labarga wrote. “It is this distinction of perception, a distinction that I cannot justify regarding admission to The Florida Bar, that is at the root of Applicant’s situation.”

Labarga urged the Legislature to “remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this court will bring to bear.”

But it is unlikely Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature would pass such a measure, especially in an election year. Gov. Rick Scott, who is seeking re-election, rode a tea party wave into office four years ago, and his campaign platform then included support for an Arizona-style immigration law.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has made one of his top priorities getting in-state tuition for high school students who are in the country illegally. But Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is lukewarm on the issue. Staff for both Weatherford and Gaetz said they were reviewing Thursday’s decision.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association who represents Godinez-Samperio, also called on the Legislature to act. He pointed out that many other types of Florida licenses do not require citizenship.

“If anybody cares about fairness, the idea of keeping Jose from achieving the credentials which he’s earned to me would be such an injustice they ought not to indulge in,” D’Alemberte, a former lawmaker, said. “Eagle Scout, valedictorian of his high school class, honors graduate from law school, passed the character and fitness exam. What’s missing?”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

Jose Godinez-Samperio Florida Supreme Court Decision (2014)

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14 Responses for “Supreme Court Calls on Florida Legislature to Legalize Right of Undocumented Immigrant “Dreamers” To Practice Law”

  1. Horhe Jesus Rodrigez says:

    American Lawyers are bad enough. Do we really want to start letting illegal aliens who went to school on OUR tax monies and sucked OUR system dry, be allowed to legally work in OUR judicial system ? Can I become a president in Mexico….NO !!! NO !!! NO !!!

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Since these Dream-Act eligible immigrants have been here since childhood, the schools are no more yours than they are theirs, the system is no more youyrs than it is theirs, and since they are immigrants, evidence shows they’re harder working than you are, and so deserve work’s rewards more than you do. You could never become president of Mexico if only because Mexicans are not in the habit of electing bigoted gringos, as we are.

  2. confidential says:

    Some aim at the wrong tree when referrig to illegal or even legal immigrants aliens as omens that sucked the system dry, that is total distortion as most come here to work really hard and take jobs that no one else wants and they contribute to our taxes. The stereo type generated by bigotry against Mexicans is base also in the total ignorance that until 1847 1/3 of todays USA was Mexican territory; Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, etc.
    So who are actually the illegals? I firmly believe that those lands are better in our hands nowadays…but for the same reason we should treat our neighbors to the south and former nationals of those lands with more respect and at least the same compassion and rights given to all the refugees with no screening at all that we bring in with all expenses paid for life and on our pockets. At least we should give the right to practice to this young professional for his exceptional achievements and sacrifice, to become a lawyer and live in our country. Congress has to pass the Dream Act!

  3. James says:

    Let me see if I understand this I have to go to vital statistics and get proof of birth with two forms of ID to prove I’m a US citizen to get a drivers license BUT if your illegal its ok to practice law!!!

  4. Genie says:

    I am torn on this one. While part of me wants to agree, the other part doesn’t believe for a minute that this government or any other is going to enforce illegal immigration.

    If that is not going to be the case, then my answer is “no”. On the other hand, prove you can do more to enforce illegal immigration and DO IT, and my answer would be yes.

    How’s that for sitting on the fence? I’m getting splinters…

  5. Diana L says:

    Illegal Aliens, come on, they are human beings. How can someone call a human being, illegal and an alien?

    • I/M/O says:

      “Alien” was the term used by your government to describe your ancestors on the Census who had not yet become citizens.

      Don’t believe me go check the 20th century censuses.

  6. fruitcake says:

    He started out as an undocumented -illegal immigrate…that never changed….He has broken the law that is in place regardless of what he has done since he was 9 yrs old…..go back to square one.

  7. Outsider says:

    Well, first the excuse for allowing illegal immigrants to come here is that they do the work “Americans won’t do.” Now, there are plenty of American lawyers who are having a tough time finding work, and we want to let illegal aliens (sorry, let’s be politically correct and call them “undocumented Democrats”) take the jobs that many Americans are qualified for and ARE willing to do? This is just more liberal self contradiction for which they are always given a pass. Besides, the reality is this man simply wants to become a crusader for immigrant “rights” so he can become proficient in taking our laws and using them to open the flood gates to yet more immigration, while the economic plight of many Americans gets bleaker by the day.

  8. BR says:

    I feel for this man because he came here as a child. His cultural identity is probably more as an American than it is anywhere else. That being said, why would a law school admit someone who didn’t even have the right to work in this country not to mention practice law? Reverse the facts and make him an adult who illegally entered the country and fraudulently attended law school he would not have my support. There should be some change in the law to allow a person like him to practice in Florida or any other state. He surely has a lot more to offer society than most and it is just stupid to deny him the ability to make a living in earnest. We provide welfare benefits to illegals but we can’t find a way to make him legal? Please!!

  9. Bill says:

    Kids that are now over 18 and where brought here by no will of their own should be given a quick path to legal residence. their illegal parents shoul be given NO government aid along with hefty fines on those who give them aid like employers who give them jobs.

  10. why not? says:

    Ok, so he’s been here since he was 9. Based upon FAPE, Free And Public Education he and every child, legal or not, has a right to their education, THROUGH 12th grade. That’s it. So, he knew he was not a legal citizen, he’s going through law school, why not just take care of the legalization of himself during his college years? And who’s employer that hired an illegal citizen? why does he/she not say, “I’m going to help fix this right now” if he’s so good?

    He was Valedictorian, he’s obviously intelligent, he should know the law… Bet the kid who got Summa Cume Laude is a bit angry though…

  11. Rich says:

    While I applaud Jose Godinez-Sampiero for his accomplishments,he should follow the path to Naturalized Citizenship if he wants to become a licensed attorney in the state of Florida. I really don’t care how California choses to handle their affairs. If I wanted to live in California then I would. I would also care how California chose to handle such situations. I also commend Jose’s parents for instilling a sense of dedication and drive in Jose to achieve such accomplishments. However, he needs to apply for US citizenship to reap the benefits that still apply to being a US citizen. Lord knows that most of the benefits that used to apply to being a US citizen have been watered down so now those benefits apply to most illegal and / or undocumented subjects in this country for whatever reason.

  12. ryan says:

    I think we need to be focused on the illegal immigrants that are gang members and human smugglers, and if media would cover those stories and differentiate them from the honest people who can be useful or have something to offer, we would not have to worry as much.

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