'Unauthorized' immigrant from Mexico to be sworn in as lawyer in Florida

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2014 4:46 PM

By Saundra Amrhein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - A Mexican national who studied law in the United States while an undocumented immigrant is set on Thursday be admitted to the Florida state bar, in the culmination of a politically charged case.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature in May passed a measure clearing the way for Jose Godinez-Samperio, who came to the United States as a child on a visa that subsequently expired, to practice law in the state.

"It feels incredible," said Godinez-Samperio, 28, speaking ahead of a planned swearing-in ceremony set to take place shortly after President Barack Obama's expected announcement on new executive action on immigration. "It's a dream come true."

The Florida Legislature acted after the state Supreme Court in March ruled against Godinez-Samperio but urged lawmakers to change state law barring "unauthorized" immigrants from becoming lawyers, which the court termed an "injustice."

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, whose family fled Cuba when he was a child, was set to perform the swearing-in ceremony Thursday night at the Tampa Hispanic Bar Association's annual gala.

Godinez-Samperio came to the United States with his parents from Mexico at the age of nine. The family overstayed their visas, and Godinez-Samperio went on to graduate from Florida State University law school.

Godinez-Samperio obtained a work permit and temporary protection from deportation through Obama's 2012 executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides no path to permanent residency and must be renewed every two years.

With his law license, Godinez-Samperio said he will continue to help Spanish-speaking families at Gulfcoast Legal Services in Clearwater, west of Tampa, where he has worked as a paralegal.

He will also keep fighting for changes in immigration law, he said, adding that he has grown disillusioned with both Obama and the U.S. Congress over the issue.

(Reporting by Saundra Amrhein; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Eric Beech)