A few years ago, something unexpected started happening across the country: undocumented immigrants started seeking admission to practice law in the U.S..
Surprisingly, this even occurred before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was even passed. Although there is no federal prohibition on state bars admitting undocumented immigrants, recently, the ABA issued a statement in support of a congressional resolution to amend the current relevant code section to provide even stronger protections for undocumented immigrants seeking admission to a state bar. As a result of DACA, many undocumented immigrants that are just reaching adulthood do not have to fear deportation.
Where Have Undocumented Immigrants Been Admitted?
California, New York, and Florida have all made national headlines for admitting undocumented immigrants. However, these states are not alone. Illinois, Nebraska, and Wyoming also permit undocumented immigrants to be admitted to their state bars.
While there have only been a few reported instances of an undocumented immigrant seeking admission to any state's bar, this is expected to increase in the coming years as a result of DACA. Based upon when it was passed, and the age of the individuals it covers, there could a small wave of undocumented immigrant J.D.s seeking admission to bars across the country.
What Kind of Work Can an Undocumented Immigrant Attorney Do?
One of the biggest issues that is likely to confront a licensed attorney with an undocumented immigration status is obtaining traditional work at a large, medium, or even a small firm. Federal law prohibits the hiring of undocumented workers, and it is unlikely a business will be willing to take the risk of hiring an undocumented attorney.
However, pro bono work can likely be done without much red tape, and a solo practice could potentially be an option, though that would likely require some finesse. Other potential avenues for work could include contract work, or even working for foreign businesses.