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ABA pic ()

Undocumented law graduates should not be denied the opportunity to join the bar and practice law based solely on their immigration status, according to the American Bar Association.

The ABA’s House of Delegates on Monday adopted a resolution urging the federal government to amend the law to make clear that individual jurisdictions have the ability to admit undocumented law graduates to the bar without running afoul of federal immigration legislation.

The resolution, proposed by the ABA’s Law Student Division, argues that a patchwork of different state laws and court rules regarding undocumented law graduates has created confusion and uncertainty across the country for law students and graduates who lack legal status. Moreover, undocumented law graduates have much to offer the legal profession, proponents agued. While they are barred from working as traditional employees, they can legally perform pro bono work, work as solo practitioners or contractors and offer legal advice outside the UnitedStates.

Thomas Kim, an incoming third-year law student at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law who is an undocumented immigrant from South Korea, spoke in support of the measure before the ABA delegates.

“As an undocumented law student, I am encouraged and thankful by the ABA’s passing of [the resolution],” Kim said after the vote Monday. “This means undocumented law students all over the country will be able to become licensed attorneys, substantively contributing to their communities.”

Kim has clerked for two summers at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine and earned a full tuition scholarship from Arizona State, but is unsure of whether he will be allowed to join the bar in his chosen jurisdiction of Oregon. The state is not among the small but growing number of jurisdictions that have already grappled with the legality of admitting undocumented immigrants to the bar. (Kim is also the incoming president of the Law Student Division, but said he was speaking on behalf of himself and not the division.)

California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Wyoming have passed state laws in recent years allowing at least some undocumented immigrants to be admitted to the bar, according to an ABA report on the resolution, while New York’s highest court ruled to that effect in 2015.

An amicus brief in the New York case suggested that “dozens” of undocumented students will graduate from law schools in the coming years, and many will face a sort of professional limbo.

Having the ABA weigh in on a national level in support of undocumented law graduates being able to joint the bar will help lead to more consistent policies, the resolution report argues.