Immigrant Lawyer Can’t Practice in Florida due to Status

Last Tuesday, March 4th, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that an undocumented immigrant cannot practice law in the sunshine state. Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio, a New College graduate who earned his law degree from Florida State University and passed the state bar in 2011, was denied the chance to practice law in Florida because of his undocumented status.

Godinez-Samperio is a DREAMer, an immigrant who was brought to the United States by his parents when he was 9 years old, and he was able to apply for a work permit in 2012 as part of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which halted the deportation of DREAMers. He is now working as a paralegal at Gulf Coast Legal Services, which provides free legal help to low-income people in the Tampa Bay area.

The court said federal law prohibits people who are unlawfully in the country from obtaining professional licenses. The justices said state law can override the federal ban, but Florida has taken no action to do so.

“Simply stated, current federal law prohibits this court from issuing a license to practice law to an unlawful or unauthorized immigrant,” the court wrote.

Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio in the Capitol. Photography by

Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio in the Capitol. Photography by

“I’m feeling very disappointed, but more than anything I’m feeling outraged at Congress, that they have failed to take action on immigration reform, they have failed to take action on DREAMers’ issues and actually I’m feeling outraged at the President as well,” Godinez-Samperio said to the media, noting that the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in the case stating that the license shouldn’t be granted.

“If I were able to practice law I would be able to help so many immigrants navigate the legal system,” he said.
The Board of Bar Examiners in Florida found no reason to deny Godinez-Samperio a license, but asked the state’s high court for guidance because of his immigration status.

Do you have questions about your own immigration case? How do you know what your options are? Immigration lawyer James Martin can help you.

James Martin, Esq. is a licensed immigration lawyer with offices in Sarasota, Naples and St. Petersburg. Schedule your consultation with immigration lawyer James Martin today calling at 941-953-3900 or emailing at

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