US representatives support Fla. immigrant lawyer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Eight members of Congress on Monday joined four former American Bar Association presidents in urging the state Supreme Court to grant a law license to an illegal immigrant whose parents brought him to the United States from Mexico on a visitor's visa when he was 9 years old.
Seven U.S. representatives and Puerto Rico's nonvoting resident commissioner sent a letter to the justices supporting Jose Godinez-Samperio's admission to the Florida Bar.
They also expressed support for a "friend of the court" brief being submitted by three ex-ABA presidents. The fourth, former Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, is representing Godinez-Samperio. D'Alemberte, now a professor, was one of his teachers at Florida State's law school.
"Here's a kid who came over not speaking any English, learned to speak English, went to school, became an Eagle Scout, continued helping as an assistant scoutmaster, graduated valedictorian from his high school class," D'Alemberte said.
Godinez-Samperio, 25, graduated from Florida's New College, earned a law degree at Florida State and passed the bar exam.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners, though, declined to admit him, instead asking the justices for an advisory opinion on whether illegal immigrants can be licensed as lawyers.
D'Alemberte's argument is that requiring proof of immigration is an invalid policy because the board never obtained the Supreme Court's permission to adopt it as a formal rule. Therefore, Godinez-Samperio has complied with all valid requirements and should be admitted to the Florida Bar, he said.
Godinez-Samperio's parents overstayed their visas and never returned to Mexico. He grew up in rural Hillsborough County. His father, a veterinarian in Mexico, milked cows on a dairy farm. His mother, a dentist, worked at a factory that made sliding glass doors.
The congressional representatives, all Democrats, noted the U.S. Supreme Court has found the Constitution requires all states to educate illegal immigrants through the 12th grade so Florida already has made a heavy investment in them.
"To deny these students an opportunity to become doctors or lawyers or practice another profession is to deny the state of Florida and all of our neighbors an educated and talented workforce," they wrote.
Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa was the only Florida House member who signed. The others are Reps. Charles Gonzalez and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, Xavier Becerra and Grace Napolitano of California, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Raul Grijalva of Arizona as well as Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico.
All of the former ABA presidents submitted the friend of the court brief are from Florida: Martha Barnett, Stephen Zack and William Reece Smith Jr.
A call to the Board of Bar Examiners placed shortly after 4 p.m. was answered with a recording saying the switchboard was closed for the day and that no messages could be accepted.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)