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The Battle for Immigrant Law Grads to Obtain State Licensing in the U.S. Continues

Becoming a lawyer requires a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment and upon successful completion of and graduation from law school and a passing score on the bar exam, the dream can become a reality. The only other requirement according to United States immigration law is that the person aspiring to be an attorney is to be a citizen of the country. If you are an undocumented immigrant then you may have an uphill battle in front of you. There have been three court cases in the last few years that have brought this issue to the forefront of the American collective conscience and in most people’s opinion they have done little more than make a confusing issue even more so for undocumented immigrants.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that Jose Godinez-Samperio is now allowed to practice law in Florida despite the fact that he graduated from law school, passed the bar, and that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program authorizes him to work in the United States. Prior to that decision, the California Supreme Court ruled in January that Sergio Garcia, another undocumented immigrant who has been living in the United States since he was 17 months old, is allowed to practice law in the state despite his status.

So what accounts for the discrepancy in the outcomes of two nearly identical court cases? Practicing law in a given state requires a license to do so that is granted by the state court. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 holds that undocumented immigrants are to be denied taxpayer funded state public benefits. One of these benefits is a state issued law license. However, state law can trump this federal law if the state in question passes its own law in opposition to it. In October of 2013, the state of California enacted such a law while the state of Florida has done no such thing.

Another relevant case involves Cesar Vargas, another undocumented immigrant who has lived in the United States since he was five years old and who graduated from law school and interned for a State Supreme Court judge. He has yet to gain admission to the bar in New York, however, because like Florida, the state of New York has yet to pass legislation that overrides the 1996 federal law. Until Congress pushes immigration reform through, these kinds of cases will become more and more common. There were nearly one million individuals eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals when the initiative was implemented in 2012 and over the years as these individuals reach working age it is expected that they will be met with resistance by other federal immigration policies that prohibit undocumented immigrants from working.

While other states have made some menial progress in their respective immigration policies such as the allowance of undocumented individuals to obtain a driver’s license, California is currently the only state that allows these individuals to practice law. If you or someone you know would like more information or to obtain legal counsel regarding this or any other immigration issue, please visit the Austin immigration legal team at Lyttle Law Firm by vising our website or calling 512.215.5225.

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