Annual Meeting

Bar admission should not be denied just on basis of immigration status, ABA House urges

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In 2016, Cesar Vargas became the first openly undocumented attorney obtain a attorney’s license in New York. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for NYCLU.

On Monday, the ABA House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver approved Resolution 519, which urges legislative bodies to ensure that bar admission is not denied solely because of immigration status.

Federal law prohibits hiring undocumented workers, and 8 U.S. Code 1621 prohibits states from providing public benefits—including professional licenses—to undocumented immigrants unless the state has “affirmatively provide[d] for such eligibility” “through the enactment of a state law.”

Rene Morency, a delegate from Missouri representing the ABA Young Lawyers Division, introduced the resolution. He discussed the struggles faced by Thomas Kim as a South Korean immigrant and recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As Kim finished law school, he did not know whether he would be able to practice.

“He was a gifted law student, a gifted member of this House—in short, exactly the type of person we want,” Morency said.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting here.

Ultimately, Kim was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 2018 and is “contributing to this, his, our country,” Morency said.

Kim is an ABA member and now in the Young Lawyers Division.

Resolution 519 builds on existing ABA policy. In 2017, the ABA House passed Resolution 108, which urged Congress to amend the code, stating that “a state court vested with exclusive authority to regulate admission to the bar may, by rule, order, or other affirmative act, permit an undocumented alien seeking legal status to obtain a professional license to practice law in that jurisdiction.”

Congress has not changed the law. However, several states, including California, have enacted legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to practice law.

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