California Grants Law License to Undocumented Immigrant
In a 7-0 decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that an undocumented immigrant can receive a law license. Sergio Garcia, who passed the bar on his first try, can now be admitted into the state bar and practice law.
Garcia’s case, which was supported by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California State Bar, stemmed from a Federal law which prohibits undocumented workers from receiving professional licenses, which are granted by government agencies and supported by public money. However, the law did not exclude states from enacting laws authorizing professional licenses to those without legal status. Since the California legislature passed such a measure in October, the Supreme Court ruled that Garcia could now be granted a license.
Although Garcia, 36, can practice law in California, he still faces an uphill battle. Due to his status, he cannot be hired by a law firm. What’s more, there are questions as to whether he could “appear in Federal court or in other states,” according to FOX News.
However, it is a major victory for Garcia, who permanently settled in the United States as a 17-year-old. His father, who’d obtained permanent resident status, filed for an immigration visa for Garcia that was accepted in 1995. However, Garcia never received that visa due to an applications backlog. During his time in the United States, Garcia worked at a farm and a grocery store before a stint as a paralegal led him to earn a J.D. from the California Northern School of Law in 2009. He is still working towards legal citizenship.
Despite Garcia’s bootstrap story, he does have critics. Ruben Navarrette, a CNN contributor, has mused whether Garcia could uphold American laws and show respect for the court when he has “lived here in defiance of the law.” However, Garcia counters that he was brought to the United States as a minor and that his presence is a civil infraction, adding “so I’m not a criminal.”
Regardless, the case is expected to reverberate in other licensed professions such as medicine and teaching. In relation to the legal profession, FOX News reports that it is “unclear how many people would qualify to practice law under the ruling,” though two similar cases have been filed in Florida and New York. It is also unclear how many states might follow the California legislature’s lead in opening up licensing to undocumented immigrants.
As for Garcia, he plans to move into personal injury law, with the hope of opening a practice and hiring associates. And his four year odyssey has certainly shaped his outlook: “I want to as help those less fortunate, those who cannot usually afford legal representation and to make sure they’re not railroaded by the court system or the insurance companies or whoever it might be. I’m all for the little guy.”