House sets stage for admitting undocumented immigrant to Barby John Kennedy | May 1st, 2014
The state House approved a narrowly drawn measure Thursday that would allow the Florida Supreme Court to admit a Tampa man as a lawyer even though he remains an undocumented immigrant after coming to the state illegally as a child.
The provision was attached as an amendment to an otherwise non-controversial family law bill (CS/HB 755) and still must win approval from the Senate before the Legislature’s scheduled Friday adjournment.
But Jose Godinez-Samperio said he expects lawmakers will let him reach his career goal of becoming an immigration lawyer. The House move also comes on a day when the Florida Senate will consider a bill granting in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants.
“The Florida Legislature is clearly moving in the right direction, recognizing the importance of immigrants in this state,” said Godinez-Sampiero, who watched the vote from the House gallery. “I believe we are number four in the nation for immigrants…we’re great contributors to the economy. And the Florida Legislature is recognizing that.”
The House amendment is tailored to help Godinez-Sampiero. It would affect only someone who has lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years, came to the country as a child, is authorized to work and has been issued a Social Security number.
For males, the potential Bar member also would have had to signed up for Selective Service, which Godinez-Sampiero has done.
Godinez-Sampiero was brought to the U.S. at age 9 by his Mexican parents. He became an Eagle Scout and the valedictorian of his high school class, going on to graduate from Florida State University College of Law in 2011 and passing the Florida Bar exam, including its moral character test.
But the Florida Supreme Court this year rejected his request to join the state Bar, citing a 1996 federal statute that says granting certain state licenses is a taxpayer-funded activity and undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive such “public benefits.”
However, the justices added that state legislators could write a new law that would override the federal ban, as California has done. In a concurring opinion, Justice Jorge Labarga, a former Palm Beach County circuit judge whose family emigrated from Cuba when he was a child and settled in Pahokee, prodded lawmakers to act.
“The Florida Legislature is in the unique position to act on this integral policy question and remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this court will bring to bear,” Labarga wrote.