Undocumented Immigrant Admitted To California State Bar
The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that undocumented immigrant Sergio Garcia can practice law, putting legal teeth into a new law that took effect on Wednesday.
Immigrant advocates hailed the decision as a landmark victory for the rights of undocumented immigrants in the state.
Garcia, 36, is still prohibited from being hired by a law firm because he is not a legal citizen. The court ruled unanimously, 7-0, in Garcia’s favor.
In October, California passed a law that took effect on Jan. 1 that allowed the state’s law to override a federal ban passed in 1996 that prohibits immigrants without legal status from obtaining professional licenses and certifications. The new law paved the way for the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision.
“In light of the recently enacted state legislation, we conclude that the Committee’s motion admit Garcia to the State Bar should be granted,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
In September, during oral arguments in Garcia’s case, the justices had challenged Garcia’s appeal citing the federal law as an obstacle.
The Department of Justice changed course after the state’s law passed. It filed a brief on Nov. 13 indicating that its initial opposition to the case was no longer valid.
Garica came to the United States in 1994 at the age of 17 with his father, a permanent legal resident.
His father filed an immigrant visa petition for his son in 1995, which was accepted. Nineteen years later, Garcia’s status remains backlogged behind other Mexican immigrants seeking legal residency.
Garcia finished high school, graduated from Cal State University – Chico, and finished his law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009.
He passed the bar the same year but was held back from admission until Thursday’s ruling by the state’s highest court. Garcia makes his living as a motivational speaker.
Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye cited Martinez v. Regents of University of California in her written ruling. That case came in 2010 after the state legislature amended an education law to exempt undocumented immigrants from out-of-state tuition costs at state universities.
The chief justice also countered arguments that illegal actions involved in being an undocumented immigrant did not necessarily disqualify a person from the bar.
“The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the State Bar, or prevent the individual from taking an oath promising faithfully to discharge the duty to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and California,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
Garcia said he is “not a criminal,” noting that his being in the U.S. unlawfully is a civil infraction, not a criminal one.
Garcia posted the news of his bar admission on his Facebook page.
“With tears in my eyes I’m happy to report I am being admitted to the bar, thank God! This one is for all of you who dare to dream and by doing so change the world! Love you all! History was made today!”
Garcia’s case earned support in high places, including state Attorney General Kamala Harris and the State Bar itself.
A spokesman for Harris issued a statement after the ruling stating, “We applaud today’s ruling and are pleased that the court agreed with state’s argument in favor of granting Sergio Garcia admission to the bar.
California’s success has hinged on the hard work and self-sufficiency of immigrants like Sergio.”
Legal experts said the case is highly unique – few people are in the same situation as Garcia – but that its importance is a symbolic one, sending a message about California’s leadership on immigrant rights.
A concurring opinion was written by Justice Chin, taking issue only with the term undocumented immigrant used by the chief justice, stating a preference for undocumented alien, which “we believed was more accurate,” Chin wrote.© Copyright 2014 Andrew Scot Bolsinger, All rights Reserved. Written For: Law & Industry Daily