Feds' opposition to Tampa immigrant 'misleading,' lawyer claims
The Obama administration has told the Florida Supreme Court that the state should reject a Tampa immigrant's request for a license to practice law, and in response, the applicant's lawyer accuses the feds of "misleading statements."
The legal volleys are the latest developments in the unresolved case of Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio, a 26-year-old Tampa man who came to America from Mexico with his parents at age 9 on a visitors' visa. He seeks to practice law in Florida even though he's not a United States citizen. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has asked the state's high court for an advisory opinion, and the court asked the U.S. to offer its opinion.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice filed a legal brief in the case last week, arguing that the court cannot approve Godinez-Samperio's request because a 1996 federal law bars undocumented immigrants from receiving "public benefits." DOJ says that law defines public benefits to include a "professional license ... provided by an agency of a state or local government or by appropriated funds of an agency of a state or local government."
Godinez-Samperio's lawyer, Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, a former Florida State University president and American Bar Association president, fired back with a court motion seeking to strike parts of the feds' brief. D'Alemberte says the DOJ incorrectly described Godinez-Samperio as an "unlawfully present alien," and noted that the man is here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. For that reason, D'Alemberte argues, the 1996 law cited by the federal government does not apply to this case.
Godinez-Samperio is a graduate of Armwood High School in Tampa, New College in Sarasota and the FSU law school, where D'Alemberte was one of his teachers. He passed the Florida Bar exam and has a Social Security card, Florida driver's license and work permit, and the Board of Bar Examiners has concluded that he is of good character and fitness.
The federal government's firm opposition to Godinez-Samperio's petition could prevent him from realizing his dream of practicing law. On the next-to-last page of their brief, the feds provide a faint glimmer of hope for him: "Congress is currently considering proposed legislation that would make substantial changes to the immigration laws," they wrote.