March 7, 2014
Florida case highlights how important California legislation was in California undocumented immigrant’s bar admission
Florida’s Supreme Court yesterday issued an advisory opinion concluding that undocumented immigrants cannot obtain law licenses in that state. The California Supreme Court early this year reached the opposite conclusion for this state in In re Garcia. The Florida opinion makes clear — if there were any doubt — that the dispositive difference between the two states was a statute quickly enacted by the California Legislature to specifically authorize the licensing of otherwise qualified undocumented immigrants. Because Florida has no similar statute, the Florida court held, federal law precludes bar admission. Oral argument before the California Supreme Court in the Garcia case strongly indicated that the court was going to reach the same conclusion if the Legislature had not quickly acted.
Relying heavily on the Garcia opinion, a reluctant concurring opinion in the Florida matter urges the Florida Legislature to follow California’s lead, stating that “the Florida Legislature is in the unique position to act on this integral policy question and remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this Court will bring to bear.”
The concurring opinion concludes with an unusually personal observation. The opinion’s author, Justice Jorge Labarga, was born in Cuba and was brought to the United States when he was 11. He writes that the “life in the United States” of the applicant who was the catalyst for the court’s advisory opinion, “in many respects parallels my own.” The defining difference, however, is this: “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.” The opinion ends by saying, “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.”