Many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children have graduated from US law schools, passed bar exams, and are seeking to practice law in the US as attorneys. Yet because they are undocumented immigrants, they are forbidden by the state bars from being admitted as attorneys to legally practice law.
Sergio Garcia was brought to the United States illegally by his parents when he was just a baby. He has since graduated from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the California state bar exam in 2009. The state bar told him he was ineligible to join the state bar because he was in the country illegally. The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing Garcia’s case to decide whether the state bar must admit him as an attorney.
Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio entered the United States illegally with his parents when he was only nine years old. He graduated from the Florida State University College of Law and passed the Florida bar exam. The state bar asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion to decide whether he should be allowed to practice law in Florida.
Experts say the courts are unlikely to rule in favor of Godinez-Samperio and Garcia. Employers are prohibited by Federal law from knowingly employing undocumented immigrants. However, those who hire independent contractors are not required by federal law to ask for proof of legal immigration status or work authorization. A law firm who hires an attorney who is not authorized to work in the US is breaking the law, but a client who hires the same attorney isn’t breaking the law.
If the Court decides in favor of Garcia or Godinez-Samperio, such a ruling could be limited specifically to that person, but even if this happens, the decision would set an important precedent for other courts to follow and for other state bars to consider. A victory for them could mean a victory for others in their situation as well.