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Karla Luzardo's dream of becoming a lawyer could be crushed by Florida immigration bill

Karla Luzardo is a junior at UCF. She dreams of becoming a lawyer.
Danielle Prieur
Karla Luzardo is a junior at UCF. She dreams of becoming a lawyer.

A bill that would ban undocumented people from being admitted into the Florida Bar, is getting its second committee reading in the Florida Senate on Tuesday.

Ever since Karla Luzardo could remember, she's had one dream to graduate from law school, pass the Bar and become a lawyer.

“I’m an immigrant, I want to be able to help other immigrants that have gone through the same process I am going through right now.”

UCF junior Karla Luzardo has always dreamt of becoming a lawyer

Luzardo is a junior at UCF. She fears those dreams might be slipping away. There's a sweeping immigration reform package being considered in the Florida House and Senate.

As she sits amongst people donning their black UCF caps and gowns, taking graduation pictures, she said if that bill passes, she’ll leave Florida.

“I would probably go out of state to pursue law, because that's something that it's still in my plans.”

Sweeping immigration reform is introduced in the Florida legislature

The “Unlawful Immigration” bill would keep undocumented people from becoming lawyers in Florida.

It would also make it a felony to shelter undocumented immigrants. Medical clinics would have to ask people about their immigration status and businesses who hire undocumented workers would be fined $1,000 dollars on the first offense.

Luzardo has lived in Central Florida with her family since she was 12. They moved here from Venezuela and are now seeking asylum.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his support for the immigration bill at a press conference last month, he presented it as a paradox: how could people who had broken the law by entering the country illegally, uphold it as lawyers?

“How could you be violating the law and then be practicing the law?”

Federal law doesn’t allow undocumented people to obtain professional licenses, but some states have passed laws allowing them access.

Florida has allowed undocumented people to practice law in the state since 2014

Florida, along with 12 other states, do admit undocumented people to the Bar, according to Luz Nagle of Stetson Law.

Florida governor and now Republican Senator Rick Scott, signed that legislation into law in 2014.

Samuel Vilchez Santiago is with the American Business Immigration Coalition. Santiago says allowing undocumented people to become lawyers has bipartisan support from the 250 Republican and Democratic business leaders that make up his group.

He said not allowing undocumented people to become lawyers in Florida would hurt law schools here.

“Now, because of this potential law, they started looking for other universities outside of the state.” 

Hope Community Center Director Felipe Sousa Lazaballet warns undocumented people need attorneys who are immigrants themselves

Felipe Sousa Lazaballet, the director of Hope Community Center says that brain drain will hurt other undocumented people here who need culturally competent, bilingual lawyers to help them fill out paperwork and navigate the immigration process.

“There are over 100,000 people in the immigration court right now in Orlando, in the Orlando court, most of them don’t have access to attorneys," said Sousa Lazaballet. "Attorneys are extremely expensive, and really difficult to find.” 

Sousa Lazaballet says attorneys who are immigrants themselves, not only know and understand the immigration process, but know what it feels like to navigate it.

“Immigration attorneys that have the lived experience of immigrants understand what they’re going through, their fears, why they’re so scared to even show up sometimes at the court.”

Back at UCF, junior pre-law student Karla Luzardo says no matter what, she’s not giving up.

“Every day I try to take any opportunity and anything that is being presented to me. Because I want to represent the immigrant community how it is: hardworking, smart, able to do everything everybody can. Even if there’s struggles and there’s walls built in front of us," said Luzardo. "I still will be able to climb them.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.
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