While the country is focused on the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law, an illegal immigrant in California is fighting to get his law license. Sergio Garcia has a law degree and has passed the California bar exam; however, he is not a U.S. citizen.
This case highlights the legal challenges faced by immigrants who arrive in this country as children and now seek to enter the workforce. Garcia came to the United States from Mexico when he was 17 months old. His father is now a naturalized citizen, and Garcia has been waiting for a visa to grant him permanent resident status since his application was approved in 1995. While the Obama Administration recently announced children of illegal immigrants are a low deportation priority, Garcia, 35, does not meet the age limit of 30.
As he waits for his visa, Garcia is also fighting for admission to the State Bar of California. His case is pending before the California Supreme Court, which must decide if his immigration status should preclude him from becoming a licensed attorney.
The Committee of Bar Examiners is standing with Garcia, recommending his admission and filing a brief in his case. The committee argues it is not aware of any statute, regulation or other legal authority that would preclude his admission. It also points out that foreign students have been admitted to the California bar even though they are not legally allowed to practice law in the United States.
The court filing further argues, “Mr. Garcia’s current ‘employability’ should not be tied to his licensure. What Mr. Garcia, or any other foreign applicant, does with his license after licensure must comport with federal regulations and that is a matter strictly between him and the federal government.”
The case is one of first impression and is predicted to establish rules for future bar admissions. The state Supreme Court is currently awaiting briefs from the federal and state attorneys general and is not expected to reach a decision for several months. As Garcia knows too well, the wheels of the government often spin slowly.