Comment by:
John J. Long, Jr.

36 Campbell L. Rev. 359 (2014)

INTRODUCTION. As Guillermo walked across the graduation stage to receive his law degree, he took a few moments to reflect on all of the hard work and sacrifice that led him to this place: his parents deciding to move from Mexico when he was four years old to give him a better life, being ridiculed in grade school because English was a challenge, being named valedictorian of his high school class, and taking out private loans and grants at high interest rates to pay his way through four years of college and three years of law school. Guillermo has been through a lot. But still, one last hurdle stands in his way before all of that work pays off and he officially becomes a lawyer—licensure by the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners.

For some law school graduates, this may seem like an afterthought. However, licensure poses a serious challenge for Guillermo. The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners requires that each applicant to the Bar provide either a birth certificate to establish that he or she was born in the United States or other documentation to show that he or she is legally residing in the United States. For Guillermo, this requirement is problematic because he entered the United States illegally as a young child. Should Guillermo’s hard work, effort, and talent go to waste? This is the question that many are asking themselves today and the problem that thousands are facing across the United States.

Over the past decade, there has been a strong push at both the state and federal level to allow individuals like Guillermo easier paths to citizenship. First introduced in 2001, the proposed federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would permit certain qualified immigrant students to obtain conditional permanent residency and eventually, citizenship. The DREAM Act has received strong bipartisan support, and both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed numerous versions, yet each has failed to garner enough votes to become law.

Although the DREAM Act has yet to come to fruition, numerous states have enacted their own legislation to “help certain immigrant students gain legal status.” As of February 19, 2014, fifteen states had adopted statutes favorable to the advancement of undocumented immigrants. These provisions offer in-state tuition options for undocumented immigrants by “condition[ing] eligibility for instate tuition on attendance and graduation from a state high school and acceptable college admission applications.” The specific qualifications that illegal immigrants must satisfy and the benefits offered, however, vary by state. Conversely, some state legislatures have taken the opposite approach and have adopted anti-DREAM Act legislation that prevents their states from offering benefits to unauthorized immigrant students.

This Comment evaluates the possibility of a DREAM act in North Carolina. Part I presents the historical background of the DREAM Act and includes a discussion on how case law and federal statutes have affected undocumented immigrants’ ability to obtain access to public education. It also takes a detailed look at the requirements and conditions set forth in the most recently proposed DREAM Act. Part II analyzes North Carolina’s professional licensure requirements and how DREAM act legislation in other states affects their licensure procedures. Part II also tells the story of Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who recently gained admittance to the California State Bar. Part III takes a stand on whether North Carolina should adopt its own version of the DREAM act. In support of a North Carolina DREAM act, Part III walks through a discussion of both the positive and negative impacts that a DREAM act would have on the professions in North Carolina that require licensure. Finally, this Comment concludes that North Carolina should adopt a DREAM act because of the opportunities it would provide for children who entered the United States illegally, but through no fault of their own. Educational opportunities would encourage these children to be morally responsible and productive individuals, which in turn would make North Carolina a more morally responsible and productive society. A North Carolina DREAM act would enable these individuals to obtain professional licenses and would allow them to make a positive impact within their professions.

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