ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — New Mexico will no longer deny aspiring attorneys their law licenses based on citizenship or immigration status. This decision comes from the New Mexico Supreme Court. “This is super important for me because it allows me to fully be able to exercise my law license just like everyone else,” says Luis Leyva-Castillo, who recently graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law.
For Leyva-Castillo, the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision to change the licensure rule means his future as a lawyer in New Mexico is protected. “I was born in Sonora, Mexico. I moved to Ruidoso, New Mexico when I was eight,” Leyva-Castillo says. He’s lived and studied in New Mexico since. Leyva-Castillo says upon graduation, DACA recipients—or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—are only eligible for a conditional license. This decision now gives students like Leyva-Castillo the chance to become full-fledged attorneys.
“I was very concerned because even though before the rule change I could practice law with a conditional license, we don’t know what the status of DACA is going to be in the future. Right now there is a case working it’s way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and we don’t know what that ruling is going to be,” Leyva-Castillo says. This ruling is security for Leyva-Castillo; that he would keep his law license in the state regardless of what happens with the DACA program in the future. University of New Mexico School of Law professor Carol Suzuki says DACA recipients still have to meet the same requirements to get licensed as their classmates.
“New Mexico and at least eight other states now have a rule that does not deny the law license solely based on citizenship or immigration status…It’s actually a really good change in that we need really good lawyers in this state. This rule is fair and it also really supports the values of New Mexico in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Suzuki says.
“This is just fundamentally fair for all the students that have completed all the rigid requirements that are needed to receive a law license,” Leyva-Castillo says, “We have a need for not only the immigrant community but all the other Spanish-speaking community to have access to the judicial system.”
This ruling drew sharp criticism from the state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce, who called it a ‘reckless decision’ and says it will open U.S. borders. The rule change is set to take effect October first.