The California Supreme Court is considering whether to admit an illegal immigrant to the practice of law. Having passed a written test and moral evaluation, the State Bar of California certified Sergio Garcia and sent his paperwork to the Court noting that he was an undocumented alien. Garcia came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 17-months old.
In a unanimous decision the Court has asked the State Bar to explain why an illegal alien should have a law licence, and invited amicus briefs from interested parties. This bold move opens the door to a new debate on national immigration policy and could help establish a precedent for many other potential lawyers in Garcia’s shoes.
This is not, however, the first time an undocumented alien has run up against the courts when trying to become a lawyer. According to the blog The Irreverent Lawyer, Luis Perez graduated UCLA Law School in 2010 and faced similar problems when trying to meet the requirements before taking his California Bar Exam in February 2011 (there are no developments currently reported around Perez’s story).
In New York, Cesar Vargas passed his bar exam, but awaits a decision of whether he can be admitted to practice. Vargas, who entered the United States when he was 5-years old, paid for his legal education through scholarships, private funds, donations, family help, and by working 7-days a week, part-time in a restaurant. The ABA Journal reports that Garcia wanted to reveal his undocumented immigration status because, ”We need to step out of the shadows. That’s the only way we can tell our stories.”
In Florida, Jose Godinez-Samperio was brought from Mexico as a child. Samperio is the quintessential portrait of the “American Dream,” having gone from being a non-English speaking 4th grader to becoming his high school valedictorian and an Eagle Scout. He then attended Florida State University College of Law and passed the Florida Bar Exam, but now sits in law licence limbo as well.
The LA Times reports that a spokesperson from the California Bar Association gave the following summary of the requirements to practice law in the state:
They included a juris doctor from an accredited law school, a background check and a positive finding of moral character. The summary said applicants must supply a Social Security number but may request an exemption. The summary made no mention of immigration status.
While Bar requirements do not demand citizenship or residency to become a lawyer, Garcia’s status as an “illegal” alien can prevent him from obtaining a license unless the State Bar can convince the Court that an undocumented citizen should be allowed practice law. According to the ABA Journal article, Garcia’s lawyer Jerome Fishkin said that “he suspects other illegal immigrants are practicing law in the state because they obtained licenses before the bar began asking about citizenship.” Should the bar overlook citizenship requirements for those in Garcia’s situation (brought illegally to the US as children) or will this start a slippery slope that invalidates immigration laws calling the whole system into question?