Last Updated:November 28 @ 05:03 pm

Illegal immigrant in Fla. fights for law license

By Bill Kaczor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida man's bid to become the first illegal immigrant to obtain a law license in the United States met skepticism Tuesday from most of the state's Supreme Court justices.

Jose Godinez-Samperio came to the U.S. with his parents on visitors' visas when he was 9 years old, but the family never returned to Mexico. He graduated from New College in Florida, earned a law degree from Florida State University and passed the state bar exam last year.

"He's somebody who has done everything he's supposed to do. He complied with every rule," Godinez-Samperio's attorney and former American Bar Association president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, said after the hearing.

Godinez-Samperio's case is one of a few across the country. Illegal immigrants in New York and California also want to practice law there.

The Board of Bar Examiners in Florida found no reason to deny the 25-year-old Godinez-Samperio a license but asked the state's high court for guidance, said the board's lawyer, Robert Blythe.

"It's not really about this applicant," Blythe said. "It's a broader question."

Justice Barbara Pariente compared Godinez-Samperio's status to someone who doesn't pay federal income tax.

"The board would never recommend that person for admission to the practice of law," Pariente said.

Later, though, she suggested the court could temporarily license Godinez-Samperio. The seven justices questioned lawyers about the possibility of a limited license that would let Godinez-Samperio do free legal work and discussed delaying their decision to see if he obtains a work permit under a policy President Barack Obama announced in June.

"Somebody's trying to make it a — literally — a federal case, but we're talking about one person right now out of thousands every year," Pariente said.

Obama issued a directive to protect immigrants who are 30 or younger and entered the country illegally as children. It exempts them from deportation and offers temporary work permits and Social Security cards for those who apply. It does not provide a path to citizenship.

Pariente said Obama's policy "may or may not continue" if the Democratic president is defeated in November. Republican challenger Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would honor the temporary work permits under Obama's policy while promising comprehensive immigration reform before the two-year visas expire.

Godinez-Samperio said the election may decide his future.

"The voters need to take into account that the president they elect is going to make a lot of these policy changes," he said. "And Mitt Romney has been a failure at being clear on his immigration position."

The Florida justices are appointed by the governor and up for retention votes every six years. Three are on the ballot this year and are opposed by the GOP, a break from a typically nonpartisan election.

Justice Charles Canady also expressed reservations, citing a federal law that prohibits state agencies from licensing illegal immigrants. He noted the case in California, where the U.S. Justice Department filed brief with the Supreme Court there opposing bar admission for Sergio Garcia.

Garcia also came illegally to the U.S from Mexico when he was a child, but he would not qualify for a work permit under Obama's new policy because he is 35 years old.

D'Alemberte, who also is a former Florida State University president and taught his client when he was a law student, said the federal law doesn't apply because the Florida Supreme Court is not an "agency." He also argued the states have a constitutional right to decide who practices law in their courts.

At least one Florida justice, Cuban immigrant and naturalized citizen Jorge Labarga, seemed to support Godinez-Samperio.

"If he's afforded a Social Security card that means he can work," Labarga said. "Then what's the issue?"

In New York, Ceasar Vargas has passed the bar exam but is waiting to see what happens in Florida and California before applying for a license. Vargas, whose parents illegally brought him to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 5, graduated from the City University of New York law school.

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  1. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    October 3, 2012 @ 9:39 am

    Illegal is illegal! Lawyers need to obey the law too!

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  2. nonyjeanComment by nonyjean
    October 3, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    I want to know why he hasn’t became a US Citizen. He has been here long enough, it should have already been done. If you are smart enough to get a law degree, may be you should have been smart enough to become a Citizen. U S A paid for you schooling probably.

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  3. cmartyComment by cmarty
    October 3, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    Try this first: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    Why won’t he apply for citizenship? Does he wish to NOT assimilate into this country? This country that’s given him SO much. He’s taken advantage of our system, but refuses to become a part of it???

    If there isn’t a law that says you have to be an American to practice law in the USA, THERE SHOULD BE!

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  4. makesenseComment by makesense
    October 3, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    A legal way for these children brought into the US illegally is, if they have graduated from college, to apply under the P3 preference under our Immigration laws. Under this preference, if the individual qualify under the Dept of Labor’s declaration that there is a shortage of skills in their profession and they get a job offer and sponsorship from a US located company, they can get an immigrant’s visa. Currently there are 600,000 unfilled jobs in the technical field going begging. I came into this country in 1965 under that visa…. so did a few thousand who joined Boeing as engineers building the 707.

    Unfortunately for this fellow, there is a huge surplus of Lawyers in this country. Romney can mention this P3 category in his speeches encouraging these kids to take up engineering lines where there is a shortage and create a win-win situation. And by the way, no new laws or change to our current immigration laws is needed.

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  5. westtexaslibraryladyComment by westtexaslibrarylady
    October 3, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

    Yet children who are brought to the US legally with their parents are frequently deported when they turn 21 if they can’t get the money and the appropriate paperwork done in time (it can take a really LONG time to do it legally). No free ride for those who follow the rules, so exactly what is the incentive for coming into the US legally?

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  6. gnafuComment by gnafu
    October 3, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    No, In the Name of God, NO! Sorry, Illegal is Illegal. This man used American Tax Dollars to attend school and now wants to be part of the American Legal System. What does he know about “legal?” If Jose is not an American Citizen, then he has no bsiness practicing law here in the U.S.

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  7. goodguynyComment by goodguyny
    October 3, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    What a tool. If anyone should know that he is illegal , it should be him….he studied the law in LAW SCHOOL.

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