Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida man at center of immigration debate a guest at Tuesday's State of the Union

President Barack Obama is sure to bring up the subject of immigration in tonight's State of the Union address, and for one young idealistic Tampa man, it will be a very emotional moment.

Jose Godinez-Samperio, 26, won't be watching Obama on TV. He'll be sitting there in the House of Representatives, as the special guest of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

That is exactly where he belongs, because this Floridian is, in many ways, the human face of America's complicated and unresolved debate over immigration.

Godinez-Samperio's case is being followed closely across the country. A native of Mexico, he came to America with his parents at age 9.

First in his class at Armwood High in Tampa and an Eagle Scout, he graduated from Florida State University's law school, but he cannot be admitted to the Florida Bar because he's not a U.S. citizen. The Board of Bar Examiners sought guidance from the state's highest court.

"This is a historical moment," he said. "I liken it to when the first African-Americans were admitted to the Florida Bar. I don't think it's easy for anyone."

He's seeking his law license in part because of an order the president issued last June, which said undocumented immigrants under age 30 who were in the United States could stay without fear of deportation.

Last October, he petitioned the state Supreme Court, but the justices have not ruled. A legal question is whether a Bar license is considered a "public benefit," which undocumented immigrants are barred from receiving under a 1996 federal law.

"Jose is an inspiration," Castor said. "Unfortunately, he's also an example of our broken immigration system."

While waiting for a ruling, Godinez-Samperio got federal approval for a work permit. That enabled him to apply for and get a Social Security card, which changed everything. He sure looks like he's on a path to citizenship that we keep hearing about.

"When I got it, I almost began to cry," he said Monday, recalling the slights and humiliations he has endured because he didn't have that little card the rest of us take for granted. "Basic things, like trying to get a library card or a post office box."

The nine-digit number enabled him to get a Florida driver's license, but none of that will gain him entrance to what he wants most: a Florida courtroom.

In his latest filing with the Supreme Court last month, Godinez-Samperio's lawyer, former FSU president Sandy D'Alemberte, noted the latest developments and wrote: "The court is now free to admit the respondent to the Florida Bar, there being no barrier under federal law to his using his bar admission."

Godinez-Samperio wishes someone in political power would champion his case. Someone like Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who will give the Republican response to Obama's speech. In Washington last month with a group of Florida farm workers, he met Rubio. "I mentioned my case to him," he said.

To get a prized seat in the visitors' gallery to watch the president's speech tonight, Godinez-Samperio needed more than the generosity of a member of Congress.

He also had to pass a basic security check, and to do that, he needed to provide his Social Security number, which he was happy to provide.

Contact Steve Bousquet at

Florida man at center of immigration debate a guest at Tuesday's State of the Union 02/11/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 3:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida ethics board to hear Go Hillsborough complaint against Buckhorn, Hagan, Murman


    TAMPA — Two years after complaints accused Tampa and Hillsborough County elected leaders of steering a transportation contract to a politically connected firm, the state’s ethics police will finally hear the case.

    Florida Commission on Ethics will hear complaints next month against Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, as well as Commissioner Sandy Murman.
  2. Don't expect to see protests in college football any time soon


    The whispers have segued to chatter. In time, it may evolve into rumblings, or even a groundswell.

    Following the national anthem, helicopters fly over Ohio Stadium in a missing-man formation in tribute to John Glenn before a game between Army and Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)
  3. AAA expects gas prices in Tampa Bay will continue to fall


    Ticking slowly and steadily, regular gas prices have receded for the last 10 consecutive days. The average unleaded gas price in Florida is $2.67 this morning, a nickel cheaper than a week ago. In Tampa Bay, the current average unleaded gas has dropped 7 cents from a week ago to $2.62. The national average for regular …

    Gas prices for regular gas continue to decline. In Tampa Bay, the current average unleaded gas is down 7 cents from a week ago at $2.62 a gallon. [Times file photo]
  4. Restaurant review: Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights should focus on mom-and-pop pharmacy vibe

    Food & Dining

    By Laura Reiley

    Times Food Critic


    Sometimes, the more time you have with a project, the more complicated it gets. I started hearing about Mortar & Pestle in Seminole Heights about 18 months ago. It was the vision of Ujwal Patel, a pharmacist;

    Mortar & Pestle opened in Seminole Heights in Tampa in August. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  5. Snap Judgment's Glynn Washington on growing up in a 'cult' and how to tell a good story


    Glynn Washington spent much of his last visit to Tampa preparing his soul for the impending apocalypse. He was assured it was coming any day.

    Glynn Washington, the creator and host of NPR's "Snap Judgment," will bring his live show to the Tampa Theatre on Sept. 29. 
Photo courtesy Snap Judgment