Congresswoman, three past bar presidents support undocumented immigrant's effort to become lawyer
Congresswoman Kathy Castor and three former American Bar Association presidents back an undocumented immigrant’s quest to gain admission to the Florida Bar.
Jose Godinez-Samperio, who was featured in a recent Tampa Bay Times story, was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was 9 years old. His parents had tourist visas but never returned after those visas expired.
Godinez-Samperio went on to become the 2004 valedictorian of Armwood High School in Seffner and graduated from Florida State University Law School. He passed the bar exam last year, but the Florida Board of Bar Examiners declined to issue a decision on his application. Instead, the board asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question of whether undocumented immigrants are eligible for admission.
Three past presidents of the American Bar Association -- Martha W. Barnett, William Reece Smith, Jr., and Stephen N. Zack – have filed a brief in support of Godinez-Samperio.
They say a “policy allowing undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children to become attorneys is proper so long as applicants have demonstrated competence and good character. Under the Applicant’s circumstances, lack of immigration status does not raise character issues and his record demonstrates competence.”
Castor, a Democrat in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to the state Supreme Court in support of the past bar presidents’ position.
“We must encourage our nation’s next generation – not place obstacles in their path to success. It would be so unfortunate to see a young person like Jose Godinez-Samperio … work so hard and achieve the success of graduating law school and passing the Bar only to be prevented from ever working a day as a lawyer because of misguided policies,” Castor wrote. “It is short-sighted and arbitrary to deny students like him acceptance to the Florida Bar because of decisions that were made for him when he was a child. The correct result certainly is admission.”