PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION URGING THE PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT AND BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS TO WELCOME QUALIFIED CANDIDATES TO THE PENNSYLVANIA BAR REGARDLESS OF IMMIGRATION STATUS
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association, the oldest bar association in the United States, is committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and to removing obstacles to participation in the profession based on national origin; and
WHEREAS, U.S. citizenship is not a requirement to practice law in Pennsylvania; and
WHEREAS, immigrants, and particularly undocumented immigrants, face major barriers in obtaining higher education, including law school education; and
WHEREAS, many immigrants currently without legal immigration status entered the United States with some form of lawful status, such as a visa; and
WHEREAS, numerous immigrants obtain legal status, such as asylum, only after arriving in the United States; and
WHEREAS, many undocumented immigrants were brought to the United States as children and were unaware of their immigration status; and
WHEREAS, being present in the United States without lawful status is not a crime; and
WHEREAS, approximately 180,000 immigrants in Pennsylvania are currently without legal immigration status;1 and
WHEREAS, undocumented immigrants are at heightened risk of discrimination and violation of their legal rights; and
WHEREAS, the difficulty of obtaining legal redress is heightened for immigrants who have limited English proficiency and are unfamiliar with the American legal system, and who may fear retaliation; and
WHEREAS, immigrant communities, and particularly communities of undocumented immigrants, are underserved by the legal profession; and
WHEREAS, attorneys with ties to underserved immigrant communities and foreign language skills are well-positioned to help close the access-to-justice gap; and
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association has a long and distinguished tradition of promoting equal access to justice; and
WHEREAS, 8 U.S.C. § 1621 prohibits states from granting benefits including professional licenses to immigrants without legal status, unless the state affirmatively chooses to opt out of this categorical bar; and
WHEREAS, the New York courts have concluded that this opt-out power is properly exercised by the judiciary rather than the legislature with respect to the licensing of attorneys because New York has conferred plenary authority on the judiciary to set criteria for attorney bar admissions; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania has likewise delegated exclusive authority over the licensing of attorneys to the courts; and
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has the power to opt out of the licensing restrictions contained in 8 U.S.C. § 1621; and
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has delegated to the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners the responsibility for recommending rules pertaining to admission to the bar; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Law Examiners is responsible for conducting an individualized investigation of a bar applicant's fitness and qualifications, and is experienced at assigning the appropriate weight and significance to a particular bar applicant's prior conduct.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association urges the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners to opt out of the categorical bar on professional licensing of immigrants without legal status and adopt rules providing for the admission of qualified candidates to the bar regardless of immigration status.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor's designee(s) shall communicate the Philadelphia Bar Association's position to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, the legal profession, and the public and take such other action as may be necessary to effectuate this Resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: December 15, 2016
1Pew Research Center, U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Population Estimates, www.pewhispanic.org/interactives/unauthorized-immigrants/.