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Public Comments Show Overwhelming Support For DREAMers' Admission To Utah State Bar

Photo of Matheson Courthouse.
Brian Albers
Two DACA recipients petitioned the Utah Supreme Court in October to allow them to qualify for the bar and the exam. The public comment period regarding the proposed rule change closes on Thursday."

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall are among the more than 30 people who have submitted public comments in favor of allowing certain young immigrants to practice law in Utah. 

Right now, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program do not qualify to take the state bar exam or be admitted into the bar. The Obama-era policy shields some immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as minors from deportation, but doesn’t convey legal status.

Two DACA recipients petitioned the Utah Supreme Court in October to allow them to qualify for the bar and the exam. 

The two women, who are anonymous in the petition, both grew up in Utah. One went to the University of Utah’s law school; the other went to Brigham Young University’s law school. 

Their lawyer, Anthony Kaye, said the court granted the petition in December. He thinks Utah DACA recipients could bring new perspectives to the bar association. 

“My clients are situated the same as any other American person who’s grown up in this country and gone to law school and college,” Kaye said. “They are equally deserving of the ability to practice law as their chosen profession in their home country.”

Of the 42 individuals who responded to the court’s call for public comment on the proposed rule change, 31 were in favor of the rule while seven were against it for various reasons. Kaye expects the court will adopt the new rule as-is after the public comment period closes on Thursday.

If the rule is adopted, Utah would follow other states that allow DACA recipients to become practicing lawyers such as California, Wyoming and Illinois. 

Heidi Chamarro, one of the petitioners, said this is something she’s been waiting for Utah officials to address for four years. But even though the state rule is close to being enacted, DACA itself is in question. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the future of the federal program this summer. 

“I just think of everyone I know who wants to go to law school or who has other careers, that even if they change the rule it might not make that big of an impact if they end up getting rid of DACA,” the 31-year-old DACA recipient from Mexico said. 

If the DACA program is rescinded, Kaye said he hopes that recipients would have the status for the remainder of their term or that the federal government would continue to award the status on an ad-hoc basis.

Rocio Hernandez covers education and immigration for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @rociohzz

Rocio is coming to KUER after spending most of her life under the blistering Las Vegas sun and later Phoenix. She earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish at the University of Nevada, Reno. She did brief stints at The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Reno Public Radio. She enjoys wandering through life with her husband and their toy poodle.
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