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Bill To Allow Undocumented Immigrants Become Lawyers Passes House

Jose Godinez-Samperio passed the Bar exam, but under current state law, since he's not a U.S. citizen, he can't get admitted to the Florida Bar.
Kathleen Flynn

A non-citizen Florida State University law school graduate is just steps away from earning the right to practice law in the state.

When  Jose Godinez-Samperio was 9-years old, he came to the U.S.  from Mexico with his parents on a tourist visa. When the visa expired he and his parents legal infraction. But since then, Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) says Godinez-Samperio has been a model Floridian. He became an Eagle Scout and graduated Valedictorian from his high school

"He went on to New College in Sarasota and got an undergraduate degree. He went to Florida State Law School where he graduated with a law degree. He passed the Bar exam and in order for him to be able to get into the Bar, the Bar sent the question to the Florida Supreme Court,” Steube says.

Steube says the justices wanted to admit Godinez-Samperio, but were prevented by Florida law.

"Basically what the Florida Supreme Court said was we would admit this individual into the court if the legislature would give us the authority to do so and basically encouraged the legislature to give the statutory authority so the Florida Supreme Court could decide to admit this applicant as a lawyer in our state,” Steube says.

Lawmakers in the Senate amended what Steube calls an otherwise “innocuous” family law bill last week to allow undocumented immigrants admittance into the bar. And since then heavy weights like House Speaker Will Weatherford have thrown their support behind the measure.

Thursday, Steube presented an amendment to the bill, which whittled down the number people it covers so much that Stueube says Godinez-Samperio is the only person he knows of "in the history of Florida" who would fit under it.

"The Senate amendment only states that he individual would be a minor when they were brought here, that they resided in Florida for 10 years and they had passed the Bar. My amendment to that amendment takes those and adds on that they have legal work authorization, approved for by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, that they have been issued a Social Security card and that they’ve registered for Selective Service.”

But even with such tight parameters, some lawmakers like  Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach) raised several  questions and the measure and what exactly it would do.

“If this amendment passes would we as a body be declaring that this individual is now a legal immigrant,” Hill asked.

Others wondered if it would allow those accepted to the Bar under the measure to run open judicial spots. But Steube says neither of those things would happen. The measure passed the House with a  79-to-37 vote,  next the measure will head back to the Senate for another look .

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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