New Mexico will no longer deny law licenses over immigration status

New Mexico has just announced that it will no longer deny licenses to practice law based on an applicant’s citizenship or immigration status, including some aspiring law students who arrived in the U.S. as children and do not have a clear path to citizenship. The rule change from the New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled to take effect on October 1st.

“The change in the licensure rule is grounded in the fundamental principle of fairness, and is consistent with New Mexico’s historical values of inclusion and diversity,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon said in a statement.

She said the shift aligns New Mexico with recommendations by the American Bar Association. All applicants are still required to graduate from law school, pass the bar exam and undergo character vetting by The Board of Bar Examiners.

The rulemaking drew immediate criticism from state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce.

“This is a reckless decision,” Pearce said in a statement. “This latest rule will open our borders even more, and the court seems to relish making arbitrary decisions without thinking about consequences.”

New Mexico previously required applicants for a law license to provide proof of citizenship, permanent resident status or work authorization.

Recent University of New Mexico Law School graduate Luis Leyva-Castillo said the new rules lift away clouds of uncertainty as he awaits results of his law certification. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with his family at age 8 and has relied on the DACA program to avoid removal as he earned a high school diploma at Ruidoso High School and two degrees from the University of New Mexico.

He is preparing for work as a law clerk at the New Mexico Court of Appeals and said the licensing rule change “allows the state to use the immigrant community that we already have and integrate them into our workforce to prop up the economy. … I think this really sends a message.”

You can read more about this decision here.

If you are planning on sitting for the next bar exam in February 2023 and want to get a head start (which is always a good idea), please just email or call us to discuss our Early Start bar review program.