Thursday, March 6, 2014

Florida Supreme Court: Unauthorized Immigrants Are Ineligible For Admission To the Florida Bar

In Florida Board of Bar Examiners Re: Questions as to Whether Undocumented Immigrants are Eligible for Admissions to the Florida Bar (SC11-2568), the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion today holding that an unauthorized alien residing in the United States is not authorized to obtain a license to practice law. 

The court stated that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners "asks the Court whether Applicant and any future similarly situated applicants are eligible for admission to The Florida Bar. As explained below, we answer the question by holding that unauthorized immigrants are ineligible for admission to The Florida Bar." 

Notably, the Department of Justice filed briefs in the case and argued that federal law prohibited the issuance of a law license to an unlawful alien. The court stated that "the United States Department of Justice argues that federal statutes prohibit this Court from issuing a law license to an unlawfully present alien, citing 8 U.S.C. § 1621 (2012). The Department of Justice also cites the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996....." 

Justice Labarga filed a concurring opinion and stated: "I reluctantly concur with the majority decision rendering an otherwise qualified class of applicants ineligible to practice law in Florida simply on the basis of their immigration status, but I do so only because the present state of federal and Florida law compels me to reach such an inequitable conclusion." Justice Labarga also noted that:
Indeed, in many respects, Applicant’s life in the United States parallels my own. He and I were brought to this great nation as young children by our hardworking immigrant parents. We both learned to read, write, and speak the English language within a short period of time. We excelled scholastically and graduated from college and law school—Applicant from Florida State University and I from the University of Florida. Both of us were driven by the opportunities this great nation offered to realize the American dream. Sadly, however, here the similarities end and the perceptions of our accomplishments begin. When I arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1963, soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis—the height of the Cold War—my parents and I were perceived as defectors from a tyrannical communist regime. Thus, we were received with open arms, our arrival celebrated, and my path to citizenship and the legal profession unimpeded by public policy decisions. Applicant, however, who is perceived to be a defector from poverty, is viewed negatively because his family sought an opportunity for economic prosperity. It is this distinction of perception, a distinction that I cannot justify regarding admission to The Florida Bar, that is at the root of Applicant’s situation. Applicant is so near to realizing his goals yet so agonizingly far because, regrettably, unlike the California Legislature, the Florida Legislature has not exercised its considerable authority on this important question. Thus, only reluctantly do I concur with the majority decision. 
Justice Pariente concurred with Justice Labarga's concurring opinion.


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