On Tuesday, Florida’s Supreme Court considered the implications of issuing a law license to an undocumented immigrant and law school graduate who had passed the Florida bar. When asked about the grounds on how Godinez-Samperio, who was an illegal immigrant, could seek a law license, and how he would work even if granted one, his lawyer said that Godinez-Samperio had applied in August for President Obama’s “deferred action.” However, Justice Barbara Pariente was quick to point out that the “deferred action” policy could be undone if Obama loses the Nov 6. election.
While two Justices, Jorge Labarga and James Perry expressed their interest in waiting to see if Godinez-Samperio’s application seeking a law license was approved under ‘deferred action,’ the court also minced no words in criticizing the bar exam board.
“Doesn’t the board have a responsibility to follow the federal law?” Justice Charles Canady asked Robert Blythe, the board attorney. Justice Canady referred to a 1996 federal immigration law that precludes illegal immigrants from practicing as lawyers. However, Godinez-Samperio’s lawyer claimed that portions of the cited law applied to state agencies but did not apply to the court.
Despite the reasoning of Samperio’s attorneys, the court was almost unanimous in criticizing the actions of the board of exams for the Florida bar, which had allowed Godinez-Samperio to take the bar exam, even after he notified the board of his undocumented status.
Justice R. Fred Lewis said to the attorney for the board, “It seems very strange … You bring a person to the edge and you push him off the cliff …. I’m just at a loss as to how the board put the state in this kind of position.”
In a similar case, another illegal immigrant with stellar records, Sergio Garcia was prevented from acquiring a law license in California after the U.S. Justice department advised the California high court to reject Sergio’s application.
However, the situation changed in between, and now Godinez-Sempario, whose case is pending before the Florida Supreme Court, claims protection of the “deferred action” policy passed by President Obama for undocumented immigrants who meet certain eligibility conditions. Sempario, apparently meets all conditions of the “deferred action” policy.
Godinez-Samperio entered the country legally at the age of 9, but his family overstayed their tourist visas. His parents are professionals in Mexico, while in U.S. Godinez-Samperio went on to become an Eagle Scout, then a high school valedictorian, and then graduate from Florida State University’s School of Law.
Things are in a fix, until November 6.