UMiami Law Students Doing Good

The Tampa Bay Times has a story about an “alternative spring break program” in which a group of UMiami Law students work in a mobile clinic to help undocumented long-time US residents get deferments from deportation. The story leads with my former Torts student and later research assistant:

Paulina Valanty arrived at the clinic for undocumented immigrants at St. Clement Catholic Church with more than a passing interest.

Valanty, 23, a law student at the University of Miami, used to live in the shadows, worrying about being deported.

“I was undocumented until I was 20. I was very afraid,” she said. “Any time I applied for anything and saw that little box that says ‘Social Security number,’ I was afraid. It was nerve-racking just looking at it.”

Valanty, who today is a citizen, regularly attends clinics like the one held at St. Clement on Tuesday to help young undocumented immigrants seek a change in their status.

Under a modification in federal laws last summer, undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children, brought by their parents, can apply for a deferment to avoid deportation.

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15 Responses to UMiami Law Students Doing Good

  1. Vic says:

    Out of curiosity, how does someone who was an admitted undocumented alien for pretty much her entire life other than (apparently) law school, manage to a). get INTO law school, and b). expect any bar in the U.S. to admit her?

    Nothing against this young women, I’m sure she’s a fine person, but generally speaking, isn’t crminal activity (and it IS currently a crime to be here illegally) a bar to being admitted to both? When I was admitted to both, you had to be pretty clean legally and pass a background check (including a moral element) to be admitted to practice. I cannot believe any U.S. bar would actually admit her at this point.

    • I don’t *know* the answer, but I’m going to guess: 1) being brought here as a child by your parents might not actually be a crime — it’s an immigration violation but either there is no crime at all, or if there is one it is committed by the parents; 2) being brought here by your parents when a child is certainly not an act that involves any moral turpitude; 3) if there were any crimes, the statute of limitations has passed, and people enjoy a presumption of innocence.

      I stress I haven’t researched any of these things, but they feel plausible. I welcome correction from someone knowledgeable.

      Also, I can’t speak to the admissions question, but I can testify she was one of my very best students: the law school was lucky to have her, and now the US is lucky to have her as a member of our citizenry, and she will be a credit to the bar.

      • Vic says:

        No doubt she is a fine person. I just hoped she bothered to check with her intended bar before going through all this to make sure they’ll actually admit her. I’ve seen people put through hell or be rejected for a lot less. Things neither one of us would consider crimes by any stretch. The bar background check and approval is not a minor thing and is a far cry more intensive than just being accepted into law school.

        She sounds like a fine person, but I hope she’s not disappointed in the end.

  2. Paulina Valanty says:

    First, I have already been cleared by the Florida bar after disclosing my entire past to them. Second, Professor Froomkin is right when he says that being undocumented is only an immigration violation. In general, being undocumented in the United States–regardless of your age–is a civil immigration violation that can lead to civil detention and deportation but not to a criminal sentence. A small exception to this rule makes it a felony to return to the United States after being deported. However, that is not at issue here as I have never been in removal proceedings. Finally, just as a clarification of my personal story, I was undocumented for only about 4 years, having first arrived at this country when I was 15.

    • I’m not sure if this counts as mere “correction from someone knowledgeable” or as a full-on Marshall McLuhan moment, but in either case, I think that answers that.

      • Vic says:

        First, I’m not sure it qualifies as a McLuhan moment if the original information given is misleading or incomplete.

        Second, while I am happy it is al working out for her, I am quite surprised that such a violation of U.S. law, even if it’s civil, is actually OK with the Florida Bar. Given the hoops you have to jump through to be admitted in Florida, and the simple things that raise flags with them, it just seems unusual. (I know people who had real problems being admitted for very minor issues.)


        • Michael says:

          I still completely fail to see why a minor would be held liable for his or her parents’ decisions (or an adult for parental decisions taken while a minor), not to mention why any sane body would want that result. I would even be prepared to argue that it was a denial of due process (or, more fancifully, the Constitutional prohibition on corruption of blood) to do that.

          In any case, the absence of a conviction makes it not a crime (do you recall the presumption of innocence?), if crime it be, especially given that there are various legal avenues in which the undocumented might be paroled into the US even if they were caught up in a deportation proceeding. Merely being undocumented not the offense; it is being undocumented, plus not eligible for various exceptions….

          (Deuteronomy 24:16 anyone?)

          • “I still completely fail to see why a minor would be held liable for his or her parents’ decisions”

            The policy issues is removing the incentive for the parents to illegally immigrate.

            Many (perhaps most?) immigrate illegally because of the perception that their children will be allowed to live an unrestricted better life here. The argument goes that if a better life for children of illegals is not guaranteed, some of the incentive to illegally immigrate is reduced.

            I am not sure that denying an undocumented child of illegal immigrants all the rights and entitlements of a citizen is properly characterized as “punishing” the parents, or the child. At the same time, deporting a young person who is culturally American to a third world hell hole they’ve never known is not a particularly nice thing to do either. That is why I have always felt that the federal programs that offer green cards for military service (or I suppose, some years of minimum wage civil service) are the best compromises.

            • I get the incentive point, but I don’t get its relevance.

              We are not dealing here, nor was the Florida Bar dealing here with “an undocumented child” nor even an undocumented adult. By the time the application goes to the Bar we have a DOCUMENTED adult — someone the federal government has placed on the path to citizenship and/or has granted citizenship to. At that point, what right does a state have to second-guess that decision? Is that even permissible to ignore it under the Supremacy Clause?

              I can see how your arguments would apply to the Jose Gomprez-Samperio case, but I just can’t see how they apply here. Can you explain it again, more slowly, please?

              • As for Ms. Valanty, you’re right, she was documented before reaching the age of majority (or shortly thereafter), and the Florida Bar should admit her, ceteris paribus. I agree with you it is not the place of the Florida Bar to question US immigration policy. (I am not sure if Vic agrees, perhaps you are confusing us.) Unless I am missing something, the Florida Bar has not given Ms. Valanty any problems?

                My understanding is Ms. Valanty’s documentation came by virtue of marriage to a US citizen (a policy I support, because I think a citizen’s right to naturalize an alien spouse outweighs any interest the state has in minimizing illegal immigration). But I think the Florida Bar could and should look at the case differently if say, she had gotten married shortly after graduating, having spent several years here as a knowing adult. The same way I am not sure a presidential pardon would necessarily mean the bar should ignore past crimes. Not being punished for something is not the same as not being guilty.

                That is not say I would favor denying (the hypothetical) her or Jose admission, per se. But I think the bar would be obligated then to ask, “Okay, you were here illegally as an adult, and you knew it. Explain yourself?” And go from there, depending on the answer. The same way a citizen is treated for say, getting caught with a marijuana joint in college. Acknowledge the issue, and consider the circumstances.

  3. I’m a little confused as to the timeline…bottom line, was Ms. Valanty documented at the time she worked as your research assistant?

  4. Relevant to this discussion: Tampa immigrant moves step closer to Bar admission:

    Jose Gomprez-Samperio, the Tampa man seeking admission to the Florida Bar even though he’s not an American citizen, has moved one step closer to realizing his dream. An administrative board that screens all applicants for bar admission has ruled that he is of sound character to practice law.

    The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has notified the Florida Supreme Court of its decision reached at a meeting last weekend that “nothing presently contained in the investigation file will, in and of itself, be considered disqualifying.” That double-negative phrasing may not sound significant, but it is especially welcome news to Gomprez-Samperio, an FSU law school graduate who was valedictorian of his senior class at Armwood High in Tampa.


    • Jose’s case is troubling because he reached the age of majority, and was certainly well enough educated to know the legal implications of his presence in the US. It would be one thing to acknowledge the issue and discount its importance, but I think the Florida bar has taken an inappropriate political position (a disturbing trend of late for the Florida bar) by apparently ignoring the issue.

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