SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Undocumented immigrants can’t take the bar exam or practice law in the state of Utah. But a new petition from two DACA recipients and law school graduates could change that.
Two women filed a petition to the Utah Supreme Court, asking for a rule change that would allow undocumented immigrants to take the bar exam and practice law in the state.
The two women are identified in the petition as ‘Mary Doe’ and ‘Jane Doe.’ They are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that allows some children brought to the country illegally by their parents to avoid deportation. Mary Doe graduated from the University of Utah’s Law School while Jane Doe graduated from Brigham Young University’s law school.
DACA recipients are unable to take the bar and practice law in Utah because of a federal law passed in 1996 called the ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.’ The law prohibits professional licenses from being granted to undocumented immigrants unless the state decides to opt out of the restriction.
Several states including California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Wyoming have opted out of this requirement and allowed DACA recipients to practice law.
The two petitioners said they went to law school despite their undocumented immigration status because they thought Utah would have changed its rule by now. Since Utah didn’t, they decided to take the lead.
The woman listed as ‘Mary Doe’ in the petition spoke exclusively to ABC4 News Thursday about her journey. She said she came to the U.S. with her family before the age of six on a visa that expired. Shortly after, she said she was added to a petition that has yet to be processed 25 years later.
“I think it’s a common misconception that the [immigration] application progress is linear and that it’s almost like applying to the DMV. They think you can just print out an application, wait, get vetted, and then become a citizen. But that’s not actually how it works,” said Doe. “The immigration system is so insanely backlogged for countries like Mexico.”
She said she developed a passion for law, hoping to one day use her career to help others in need.
“I just think that attorneys can do a lot of good in the community. They can represent people who would otherwise not have advocates and for me, that’s something that I’ve becoming increasingly passionate about,” said Doe.
Her legal team made their arguments to the Utah Supreme Court Monday and they’re now waiting on a decision, which could take months.
“At a fundamental level, I don’t think your immigration status should impact your ability to practice law in the state,” said Anthony Kaye, Doe’s attorney and partner at Ballard Spahr LLP. “Changing the rule so that they’re able to practice law in the State of Utah would increase the diversity of the lawyers here, which is in and of itself is a good thing. We need more lawyers from diverse backgrounds.”
Kaye argued in petition documents that, “These individuals lacked the intent to violate immigration laws, have become productive members of society, and attended U.S. schools, colleges, and law schools.”
The Utah State Bar previously submitted a petition like this to the Utah Supreme Court, but it declined to make a decision until people who were actually affected by this came forward.
According to petition documents, the decision is up to the Utah Supreme Court because they are the “constitutionally mandated branch of government with sole responsibility for determining who can practice law in Utah and is, therefore, the entity to adopt a rule opting out of the federal restriction against bar admission for undocumented immigrants.”
If their petition is accepted, DACA recipients like Jane and Mary Doe would be able to take the bar exam and practice law in Utah.
“I would be ecstatic. I think, not just for myself, even though obviously, I have an interest in this. But I know people who want to go to law school here, who are also DACA recipients and it would just mean the world,” said Doe.
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