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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sergio Garcia: California Supreme Court Grants Law License to Undocumented Immigrant

Posted By on Thu, Jan 2, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Sergio Garcia, now a bonafide California lawyer. - CHANGE.ORG
  • Sergio Garcia, now a bonafide California lawyer.

Sergio Garcia's protracted battle with the Cal State Bar ends today, with a unanimous state Supreme Court decision to grant the undocumented immigrant his law license.

"We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant's presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the opinion, citing a new state law that permits the court to grant licenses to immigrants who aren't citizens.

Garcia, who lives in Chico, came to the United States from Mexico as an infant. His father became a citizen in 1994 and promptly requested an immigrant visa for Sergio, which was approved a year later. Two decades hence, however, the younger Garcia is still waiting for that visa to become available. He put himself through college and law school, passed the state bar exam, and received high marks on a moral character assessment from the Committee of Bar Examiners.

Garcia's visa application appears to be languishing in a file cabinet in some state bureaucratic office. It may take years, owing to a paucity of federal resources to process the thousands of applications that come in each year.

Ironically, the federal government opposed Garcia's admission to the California State Bar, even as it kept him in limbo. In a brief to the High Court, Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery aruged that as an "illegal alien," Garcia is unqualified to receive state resources -- including the right to a law license. Although the court is technically a sovereign entity, it's still funded by federal and state appropriations, the U.S. Department of Justice pointed out.

Yet Garcia garnered support in high places -- including a friend-of-the-court brief from State Attorney General Kamala Harris, who argued that the state court shouldn't have to bow to federal law. State legislators responded by passing a law this fall to allow undocumented immigrants to get their law licenses.

Garcia, who has worked alternately as a farmer, beekeeper, and motivational speaker, can now set his career in motion. His case may influence similar legal battles that are still ongoing in Florida and New York.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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