Pennsylvania Admits DACA Recipient to the Bar

December 19, 2017
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Board of Law Examiners Reverses Denial of Law License to ‘Dreamer’

PHILADELPHIA – Yesterday, for the first time in Pennsylvania, a “Dreamer” took the oath of admission to become a lawyer.

Parthiv Patel was brought to the United States from India at age 5 and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in 2012. He graduated from Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law in May 2016. Patel passed the bar exams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in July 2016, but in October 2016, he was notified that he would not be admitted to the Pennsylvania bar because he was undocumented.

“No one should be denied the chance to become a lawyer because of the circumstances of his or her birth,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represented Patel.

A 1996 federal statute prohibits states from conferring certain professional licenses on undocumented immigrants unless the state affirmatively opts out of that prohibition. Several states, including New York, Florida, and California, have subsequently granted law licenses to “Dreamers,” immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and lack legal status.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and cooperating counsel appealed the denial of Patel’s Pennsylvania law license to the Board of Law Examiners. Prior to Patel’s appeal, the board had not had occasion to consider whether DACA recipients could meet the criteria to become lawyers in Pennsylvania.

The ACLU argued that the board, an arm of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, has the exclusive authority to regulate the legal profession and urged the board to admit qualified candidates like Patel to the bar regardless of their immigration status. As part of Patel’s appeal, the Board of Law Examiners received letters in support of his admission from six Pennsylvania law schools, two bar associations in Pennsylvania, the Ethics Bureau at Yale, the city of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC).

On November 21, the board recommended Patel’s admission to the bar. Judge Lisa M. Rau of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas administered the oath of admission to Patel yesterday.
His application for bar admission in New Jersey is still pending.

"I will forever be grateful to my family, friends, and the ACLU for supporting me during this process,” Patel said. “My year-long gap between passing the bar exam and being admitted to the bar has taught me to pursue each opportunity to the fullest and that it is an extraordinary privilege to be admitted to the bar.

“I fully intend to use this new privilege to help improve the lives of everyday residents of Pennsylvania and to use it as a platform to share my story so that more people will realize that ‘Dreamers’ are Americans."

“Mr. Patel is just one of many ‘Dreamers’ who contribute in countless ways to American society. It is high time for Congress to pass a clean Dream Act to create a path to citizenship for people like Mr. Patel,” said Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Parthiv is an American success story. We should celebrate him, not deport him.”

Patel is represented by Tack-Hooper, Fred Magaziner and Rhiannon DiClemente of Dechert LLP, Samuel Stretton, and Alexander Shalom of the ACLU of New Jersey.

More information about the case is available at www.aclupa.org/patel.
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