Undocumented Law Students Pass State Bar Exams, But May Not Be Able To Practice

Undocumented Law Student May Be Able To Practice

Sergio Garcia graduated from California State University in Chico and works as paralegal. He passed the California State Bar exam in July 2009.

Although he was certified by the State Bar, it is the California Supreme Court that will soon decide whether or not Garcia will receive his California law license, the Los Angeles Times reported. The reason: Garcia is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico whose parents brought him to the United States as a child.

Garcia's is the first case to come before California's highest court involving an undocumented immigrant seeking a law license. But high courts in New York and Florida are also weighing similar cases. At issue in each of the cases is what will become of the talent, skills and education that millions of young undocumented immigrants have gained while the nation debated immigration reform.

The California court has invited opinions from organizations and individuals who would like to see undocumented individuals with legal training licensed to practice law and those who would not, setting the stage for a broader debate about the nation's immigration policy.

"Some of these cases are really heart-wrenching on the facts, especially undocumented immigrants who are brought over to this country at a young age, who go through the school system, who managed to triumph over a lot of obstacles, and who have now invested all this money in a degree," Deborah Rhode, a legal ethicist, told the LA Times.

In New York, Cesar Vargas, a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 5 with his mother, graduated from the City University of New York (CUNY)'s las school. Although he passed the state bar exam in November of 2011 he's he has been unable to practice, according to Mercury News. Vargas awaits a New York court's decision.

Meanwhile the case of Jose Godinez-Samperio, 25, who graduated from Florida State University's College of Law at the top of his class, also remains unresolved.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners, which adopted a policy in 2008 that requires all applicants to offer valid citizenship or immigration papers, denied Godinez-Samperio entry into the state bar based on his legal status as an undocumented immigrant. After receiving a waiver form the state board Godinez-Sampeiro took the Florida bar exam and passed. However, the board declined to give him the go ahead to practice law and instead sent his case to the state's Supreme Court.

Godinez-Sampeiro entered the U.S. legally with his parents when he was 9 years-old on a tourist visa. When the visa expired, the family remained. Godinexz-Sampeiro has cited the need for immigration policy reform as one of the reasons he wants to practice law. The aspiring lawyer has aligned himself with the Dream Act and been open about his legal status, describing himself as "undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid," according to The Orlando Sentinel.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Garcia graduated from California State University Chico law school. The article has been updated to show that, while Garcia did attend California State University, he did not receive a law degree from the school.

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