TALLAHASSEE — Two months after the state’s highest court suggested it, the
Legislature on Friday passed a law allowing a Tampa Bay man who stayed in the country illegally to become a Florida lawyer.
With no debate, the Senate passed the measure (HB 755) by a 26-7 vote, one day after its 79-37 approval by the House.
Gov. Rick Scott told reporters he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
The governor, who’s running for re-election this year, also supports in-state college tuition for undocumented students.
Just last year, Scott vetoed a measure allowing certain young unauthorized immigrants to apply for a temporary driver’s license.
Jose Godinez-Samperio, a 27-year-old Largo resident originally from Mexico, has been trying to get his state law license since passing the bar exam in 2011. He was in the Capitol as the law was finally passed.
“Wow,” he said. “I feel incredible. This is an historic moment. I’m very thankful to everyone who worked on this.”
Critics, however, including a slew of online commenters, have loudly disagreed with allowing a non-citizen to practice law.
“Well, this country was founded by immigrants,” Godinez-Samperio said. “We’re a great contribution to this society. There’s no reason for me not to be allowed to practice law. I pay my taxes ... I signed up for Selective Service.”
He came to the United States with his parents on tourist visas when he was 9 and remained in the country after the visas expired. He never sought citizenship, he said, because he would have had to return to Mexico and stay there for years before being eligible.
The law requires non-citizens seeking to become Florida lawyers to have been brought to the United States as a minor and to have lived here at least 10 years. It also mandates having work authorization, a Social Security number and being registered with Selective Service. Godinez-Samperio has said he meets all those requirements.
Godinez-Samperio’s immigration status kept him from being licensed. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners sought the advice of the state’s Supreme Court, which said lawmakers could pass a law to allow someone in his position to get a law license, overriding a federal prohibition.
Godinez-Samperio graduated with honors from Florida State University’s law school, was an Eagle Scout and was his high school’s valedictorian. He now works as a legal-aid paralegal in Clearwater.
He said he will ask Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga to swear him in. Labarga, who came to the United States as a Cuban refugee in 1963, wrote a concurring opinion to the court’s decision.
In it, he identified with Godinez-Samperio’s plight and rued the fact that Cubans were “perceived as defectors from a tyrannical communist regime and were received with open arms,” while Godinez-Samperio, “perceived to be a defector from poverty, is viewed negatively.”