The Florida Supreme Court held a hearing nearly six months ago on whether Jose Godinez-Samperio can practice law in Florida. He's still waiting for an answer. Godinez-Samperio has fulfilled all the steps necessary to enter the profession. But he's an undocumented immigrant whose parents brought him here from Mexico when he was 9 years old, and according to the state's Board of Bar Examiners that is a problem. Godinez-Samperio deserves a clear answer from the court, and the justices should overrule the reservations of the Board and grant Godinez-Samperio a law license.
National immigration policy allows young men who were brought here as children through no fault of their own to live and work in the country. And there is no state prohibition on foreign citizens being approved for Florida Bar admission. Yet Godinez-Samperio remains in limbo.
Godinez-Samperio, 26, is just the kind of young man President Barack Obama intended to help through an executive order in June that gives undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 the chance to remain in the United States without fear of deportation. He is an Eagle Scout who graduated as the valedictorian at Armwood High School in Seffner. His impressive academic credentials include an undergraduate degree from New College and a law degree from Florida State University. Florida taxpayers already have contributed substantially to Godinez-Samerio's public education, and it was a good investment. In July 2011, Godinez-Samerio passed the Florida Bar exam and later cleared his character and fitness review. He has obtained a Social Security number and a permit to work legally in the United States.
Godinez-Samperio would be a working attorney today if not for a policy developed in 2008 by the Board of Bar Examiners requiring that entrants provide proof of citizenship or immigration status. After Godinez-Samerio applied for a law license, the Board went to the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether an undocumented immigrant may be admitted to the Bar. Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, state legislator and Florida State University president, represents Godinez-Samperio and makes persuasive arguments: The Board has no authority to establish an exclusionary policy without a full and fair rulemaking process that allows for input by interested parties; also, it is wrong to apply a policy to someone after they have complied with all the onerous and expensive requirements for Bar admission.
But Godinez-Samperio's case comes down to the fact that he qualifies for a law license. This was made evident during the October hearing when Justice Jorge Labarga noted that a lawyer from Buenos Aires working with a Florida law firm, who never plans to set foot in the United States, can become a member of the Florida Bar. In addition, Labarga said, Godinez-Samperio has a valid Social Security number and may legally work in the country.
"What is the issue?" Labarga asked.
Exactly. There is no legitimate reason to refuse Godinez-Samperio Bar admission. The high court should agree and remove this unjustified barrier that improperly mixes immigration issues with the license to practice law.