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Open the Bar (Spring 2019 Liberty Reporter)

Undocumented immigrants qualified to practice law should be admitted to the Utah State Bar.

daryan shamkhali 133232 unsplashShould beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program be admitted to the Utah State Bar, and does the Utah Supreme Court have the power to admit them?  These were the key questions raised in a petition to the Court by two DACA recipients seeking to become licensed attorneys in Utah. DACA is a program that grants protection from deportation as well as work authorization to qualified undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. To answer the questions, the Court invited the ACLU and others to weigh in as amicus curiae, or “friends of the court.” Ultimately, about a dozen organizations and individuals submitted briefs, including law professors, local law firms, the Utah Legislature, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a brief the ACLU of Utah and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project submitted to the Court in late March, we replied to both questions with an emphatic “yes.” We believe that the state’s judicial branch has the power to make this decision and that undocumented immigrants who meet the rigorous criteria for admission can and should be admitted to the Utah State Bar. We also noted that several other states already permit undocumented attorneys to join the bar. 

Currently, attorneys who lack immigration status are not being admitted to the Utah State Bar, a process controlled by the Utah Supreme Court. This situation has created a barrier to employment for law school graduates who have satisfied every other requirement to practice law in the state. When a reporter covering the issue for KUTV interviewed Ciriac Alvarez, a DACA recipient who has been accepted at several law schools, Alvarez explained her hesitancy to matriculate unless she can be admitted to practice law. “There’s no point in going to a firm and saying that yes, I am technically a lawyer, but I haven’t taken the bar [exam] yet.”

“We support the ability of Dreamers to reach their professional goals to continue making important contributions to our society,” explains John Mejia, Legal Director of the ACLU of Utah. “Because the Utah Supreme Court governs access to the Utah State Bar, we believe that the Court can and should grant admission to DACA recipients and other qualified immigrants.” The Utah Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision later this year. 

...from the Spring 2019 Liberty Reporter

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