He contributed to civic life as an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian and graduate of New College and Florida State University's College of Law. But to the credentialing arm of Florida's legal profession, Jose Godinez-Samperio is little more than the grown-up version of a 9-year-old whose Mexican parents overstayed their visas after entering the United States. His fight for admission to the Florida Bar captures the senselessness of America's immigration policy, and he should not be punished for the choices made by his parents.
The Board of Bar Examiners blocked Godinez-Samperio's bid to become a lawyer in Florida, ruling the 25-year-old was not qualified because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. The board's executive director maintains that non-U.S. citizens must be legal residents to qualify for Bar admission. The board has asked the Florida Supreme Court to resolve the dispute, which Godinez-Samperio's lawyer aptly characterizes as an abuse of the law and a lack of common sense.
Godinez-Samperio's story, reported by the Tampa Bay Times' Jodie Tillman this week, is one of a child whose legal limbo was not his creation. He and his family entered the country legally, and Godinez-Samperio — as any 9-year old would do — remained with his parents after their tourist visas expired. He learned English, and he distinguished himself in high school, college and law school. He has never hidden his undocumented status or lurked below the radar. He applied for and received a federal tax ID and registered for the military draft with the Selective Service System.
Godinez-Samperio's attorney, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former state legislator and FSU president who once headed the American Bar Association, said the board is acting without authority and applying a rule that "is unwise and without a valid purpose." In a filing to the state Supreme Court, D'Alemberte said the board denied Godinez-Samperio's application based on a policy, not an established rule, raising constitutional questions about due process and equal protection. More practically, he argues, the board's decision denies Godinez-Samperio use of the credentials he has earned, which he could use in all sorts of ways here and abroad. His decision as a child to stay with his parents should not be used now as a mark against his character.
These are sensible arguments that highlight the ridiculousness of current immigration policy — and of state interpretations of how to balance public interests. Godinez-Samperio is a product of Florida's public school and university systems. He is the very type of young talent who could give back to his adopted homeland under the Dream Act legislation, which would provide a path toward legal residency to undocumented immigrants who enroll in college or enlist in the military. Yet this nation continues to bury its head over assimilating millions of people in whom taxpayers have already invested.
The Florida Supreme Court should see the waste and arbitrariness of allowing a law school graduate to make it this far only to be denied the full use of his achievements. And Americans, and Floridians in particular who enjoy the benefits of such a diverse state of immigrants, should recognize the costs of an immigration policy that denies millions the chance to give back to the communities where they are called friends and neighbors, fellow students and colleagues — and where they call home.