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Illegal immigrant, already a law grad, seeks Florida bar entrance

April 16, 2012|By Richard Fausset
  • The Florida Supreme Court building in 2000.
The Florida Supreme Court building in 2000. (Mark Foley / Associated…)

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

The Florida Supreme Court may soon decide whether an illegal immigrant should be able to become licensed to practice law in the Sunshine State.

The case of 25-year-old Jose Godinez-Samperio, a resident of greater Tampa who wishes to be admitted to the Florida bar, presents an interesting twist on the generation of young people who were brought to the United States by their parents illegally while very young but are now fully grown and, in some cases, highly motivated and highly talented.

Many have taken to calling themselves "Dreamers," a reference to the Dream Act, the so-far unsuccessful federal legislation that would offer a path to permanent legal-residency status to qualifying students students who graduate from college.

Godinez-Samperio is not alone. Similar dramas are unfolding for illegal-immigrant law students in California and New York.

Godinez-Samperio, according to South Florida's Sun Sentinel, was brought to the United States 16 years ago by his parents on a tourist visa. He was an Eagle Scout and the valedictorian of his high school.

More recently, he graduated from the Florida State University College of Law. Now he wants membership to the bar.

Rafael A. Olmeda, a reporter at the Sun Sentinel, wrote that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners is asking the state Supreme Court to decide whether the board can admit someone who doesn't have legal status.

Godinez-Samperio's attorney argues that her client has been open about his illegal status in his applications to college and law school, and says that the rules for admission to the bar do not say anything about proving immigration status.

Disagreeing with that line of argument is William Gheen, president of the group Americans for Legal Immigration.

"No one who has shown this guy's level of contempt for American law should be practicing law," he told the Sentinel.

Olmeda noted that even if Godinez-Samperio received his bar card, federal laws would prevent him from practicing law in Florida.

[For the Record, 1:45 p.m. April 16: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Rafael A. Olmeda as a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. He's a reporter at the Sun Sentinel in South Florida; the Orlando Sentinel website featured the Sun Sentinel's story.]

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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