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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Still a Tough Road for Undocumented Lawyers
First, let me say this: I'm relieved in advance that my blog doesn't have a comment section. Want to see some scathing commentary? Go ahead and Google anything having to do with issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants.
A few months ago, California signed into a law a bill permitted undocumented immigrants to practice law. Lest we get lost in the semantics of this-by undocumented immigrants, I mean people who were born in another country and relocated to the U.S., but who do not have documents legally authorizing their presence here.
The reality for many undocumented immigrants is that they can live a somewhat normal life here in the U.S., albeit without the rights of a green-card holder or U.S. citizen. They can attend public school, and attend public university. They can attend law school. They can apply for and pass the State Bar exam.
California decided that if such a student could jump through all of those hoops, there was little reason to deny them a law license.
Such a position is fraught with practical problems. First, employers can be punished for hiring employees who are not legally permitted to work in the U.S. Many states also have moral assessment components to law licensure. These types of evaluations may take umbrage with potential lawyers who aren't legally entitled to be in the U.S. Moreover, there is a constant tension between state and federal laws, which, in situations such as this, are in direct conflict with one another.
One alternative path may be opening a solo practice. Independent contractors are not subject to the same scrutiny as third-party employers. However, declaring income for tax purposes may be difficult for an undocumented immigrant, who won't have a social security number.
Ironically, this is a complex and very fluid area of the law. If one extracts the politics from the concept, it opens many doors to interesting legal discussion. Only time will tell where the future takes this.
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