The Florida Supreme Court is dealing with a very difficult decision this week. Should a young man who has passed the Florida Bar Exam be allowed to practice law in their state?
The problem with 26-year-old Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio is that he was born in Mexico and brought to this country on a tourist visa by his parents 17 years ago. They decided to stay here after their visas ran out. Though they were both professionals in Mexico, they could only work in farm and factory jobs here. Godinez-Samperio was raised in the Tampa area, graduated from high school as valedictorian and graduated from the Florida State University law school. Last year, Godinez-Samperio passed the Florida Bar after disclosing to the Bar Association that he is an illegal immigrant.
The executive order that President Obama signed gives Godinez-Samperio a two-year work visa and protection from deportation. The issue before the Florida Supreme Court is whether or not he should be allowed to practice law during those two years.
There is only one precedent for this case, a 35-year-old illegal immigrant named Sergio Garcia in California. In that case, in August, the United States Department of Justice advised the California Supreme Court that an illegal immigrant could not practice law. They have not weighed in on the Godinez-Samperio case, but it can be assumed that their opinion would be unchanged in just two months. There is a case in New York that has not reached the courts yet.
The Florida Bar Examination Board granted Godinez-Samperio a waiver of proof of citizenship so he could take the bar exam, knowing that a 1996 immigration law probably precluded Godinez-Samperio being able to practice law. The sequences involved here, with the Board permitting Godinez-Samperio to take the exam and then asking the Supreme Court to rule, suggest that this case was a set-up, that the Board wanted to challenge the idea that a very bright, hard-working young person who just happens to be here illegally through no fault of his/her own, should be allowed to succeed. The events preceded the President’s executive order, and happened while the Dream Act was still being fought over by Congress. Godinez-Samperio has applied for “deferred action” status under the order.
Godinez-Samperio is precisely the kind of immigrant that would have been granted a path to citizenship under the Dream Act. He is precisely the kind of immigrant that the President wants to encourage to stay in America under proposals other than the Dream Act that would target those young people who came here to attend college and want to stay. Godinez-Samperio may have thought he was just seeking the right to practice law, but he will quickly become a poster boy for allowing the best and brightest of immigrants to stay here and contribute to our nation.