Immigration News: Illegal Immigrant Seeks to Join the California Bar

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT SEEKS TO JOIN THE CALIFORNIA BAR

Sergio C. Garcia is a 35 year old illegal immigrant who entered the U.S. with his parents when he was 17 months old. His parents entered the country illegally, and therefore so did Sergio. The Garcias returned to Mexico when Sergio was nine years old and then returned to the U.S. when the boy was 17. Mr. Garcia's father became a U.S. citizen and worked with Sergio to secure his legal status and green card. In 1994, father and son set out on the course to change Sergio's immigration status to legal. When the immigration application was presented to the authorities, the application was accepted and Mr. Garcia was placed on a waiting list. Father and son were advised that the wait for final approval could be as long as 10 years.

Mr. Garcia's parents were hard-working farm employees and they encouraged their children to value hard work and education. Sergio was able to obtain his high school credentials, and was then accepted into college, all while his immigration status was still in limbo and he was technically considered an illegal immigrant. Mr. Garcia worked full time hours at a grocery store while attending college to obtain his Bachelor's degree. He obtained his degree in a timely manner, and then was subsequently accepted into the Cal Northern School of Law.

Sergio Garcia graduated from law school in 2009 and passed his bar examination on his first attempt. Mr. Garcia applied for his law license, but was notified that there would be a two year wait. However, the California Supreme Court placed a hold on his application for his license to practice in May of 2012. The high court placed Garcia's application on hold to determine if an illegal immigrant was eligible to practice law in the state.

Though the Obama administration's recent immigration policy has halted deportation of those individuals under age 30 who were brought into the country illegally prior to their 16th birthday, this exemption will not apply to Garcia, who is 35 years old. However, supporters of Sergio Garcia claim that allowing Mr.Garcia to obtain his law license would uphold the spirit of the policy of the Obama administration.

Mr. Garcia was certified by the California Bar Association in anticipation of his pending license. He was able to practice law for a short time before media attention prompted a re-examination of his case by the bar. Mr. Garcia is currently working with his father as a beekeeper while he waits to have his case heard.

Current Status of Sergio Garcia's Immigration Case

As of 2012, Sergio Garcia has been awaiting a decision on his citizenship status. Mr. Garcia has no criminal record and has actively pursued a career in law. Mr. Garcia's case is now pending and will be heard by the California Supreme Court. Kamala Harris, the California State Attorney General, argues that Mr. Garcia should be granted his law license and should be able to practice law in the state. Harris' argument is based on the assumption that "federal law leaves such issues up to the state." However, the Obama administration's Department of Justice provided an opinion that is not in favor of granting Mr. Garcia his law license.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicated, in an opinion to the California court, that because illegal immigrants are not eligible to practice law in the U.S. because federal law prohibits the state from granting a law license. Moreover, federal law would also prohibit an undocumented individual from practicing law because a 1996 law denies illegal immigrants "public benefits." The denial of public benefits precludes the issuing of professional and commercial licenses to undocumented individuals issued by the federal or state governments.

Though states are able to pass laws allowing illegal immigrants to receive certain public benefits, California has not yet passed any such laws. Though, in this immigration case, Harris was quick to point out that the individual would pay fees for the law license. However, the Department of Justice responded that the state's Supreme Court, the license-granting entity, was a publicly funded entity.

Another complication in the case of Sergio Garcia would be obtaining employment. Employers are prohibited by federal law, from hiring undocumented workers. Therefore, Mr. Garcia would not be able to work for a law firm. Mr. Garcia would be able, however, to work an independent contractor and take clients as a contractor. But the Department of Justice countered with the argument that, under current law, those arrangements would be illegal, as well.

The current state of Mr. Garcia's case appears to be such that he has the support of the California Supreme Court, but the U.S. Department of Justice is not willing to consider Garcia as an exception to current immigration laws. Mr. Garcia's supporters in the State of California are many, and, though the stand taken by the U.S. Department of Justice is based on current law, many question the interpretation of the law given the Obama administration's recent announcement in June 2012 which indicates a halt on exportations of those immigration cases for individuals with no criminal histories, who are under 30 years of age and who were brought into the country as children. Mr. Garcia'shearing is not yet scheduled. The case is entitled In re Garcia on Admission, S202512. This immigration case is being followed by several California media outlets and the outcome will be published when the case has been decided.

An informal poll from AboveTheLaw.com shows that individuals who responded to the Internet-based survey are split with regards to their opinions on the case. The poll asked 599 respondents if Sergio Garcia should be allowed to practice law even in light of his immigration status. Fifty-four percent of respondents answered "Yes" while 46 percent answered "No."

Last reviewed on: 09/08/2012
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