Immigration fight finds new venue: Licensing a lawyer
SAN JOSE, Calif. — An illegal immigrant's unprecedented quest to get his California law license will finally get its day in court.
After years of waiting, Sergio Garcia, a Chico man who has secured his law degree but not his U.S. citizenship, on Wednesday will be at the center of closely watched legal arguments in the California Supreme Court.
The justices are considering whether the state Bar can grant an illegal immigrant a card to practice law in California, a question entangled in the fast-moving, complex immigration debate unfolding across the country.
The Obama administration, despite publicly supporting the rights of immigrants in exactly Garcia's posture, has urged the Supreme Court to deny him a law license — taking the position it would conflict with federal immigration laws.
But Garcia has widespread support, including from the State Board of Bar Examiners, Attorney General Kamala Harris, a host of civil rights organizations and dozens of legal scholars who say both state and federal law allow California to license such immigrants.
“It's been four years since I passed the bar (exam),” the 36-year-old Garcia said last week. “You only live once, and I only have a limited amount of time.”
Garcia's pursuit of a law license has attracted nationwide attention, with other states watching the outcome and the prospect of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A similar case is unfolding in Florida, where the state Supreme Court there has thus far refused to give a law license to Jose-Godinez Samperio, but there has not been a final ruling. An illegal immigrant and prospective lawyer in New York also filed a brief supporting Garcia in the Supreme Court.
Garcia was born in Mexico but spent most of his life, including parts of his youth, in the United States. His immigration status has been in flux since 1994, when he returned from years of schooling in Mexico to rejoin his family and finish high school in the small orchard town of Durham. His father and most of his siblings are citizens, but the sluggish federal visa process for Mexican immigrants has slowed his bid for legal status.
At the current pace, Garcia, who is too old for a federal program that aids some illegally brought into the country as youths, estimates he will not get his green card until about 2019 — and he does not want to wait that long to be eligible to be a lawyer.
To Garcia's supporters, his case is a prime example of a Mexican immigrant who has done all the right things to acclimate and succeed here. In her legal brief, Harris wrote that admitting Garcia to the bar is “consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society.”
But the Justice Department argues it simply conflicts with federal immigration law to give any professional license to an immigrant here illegally.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- $17B emergency funding for Veterans Affairs health care system passes House, heads to Senate
- IRS calls right-wing Republicans ‘crazies’ in emails
- House’s vote to sue Obama is historic foray into checks, balances
- Charges against Fla. mom raise ire
- N.Y. opera proposes mediation as lockout looms
- NYC police unions lose bid in stop-and-frisk case
- Rollout of health exchange draws flak from GAO official
- Army to begin interrogation of swapped POW
- Senate report to question detention, interrogation practices, secrecy at CIA after 9/11
- Stowaway’s access to Air Force plane eyed
- Flat-out ‘miracle’ spares women on railroad span