Undocumented Immigrant Fights for His Right to Practice Law
On Wednesday, Sergio Garcia, 36, was the subject of a Supreme Court hearing in California. Garcia is an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. as a baby, then returned to Mexico when he was 9 and came back to the U.S. at the age of 17. He graduated from high school here and attended Chico State, after that he graduated from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009.
After his graduation, Garcia passed the California bar exam on his first try, an accomplishment that only 50% of law school graduates get. After he was sworn in, there was a big celebration for Garcia that included a limousine and a dinner/dance. A friend bought him an expensive Armani suit, in order for him to start his legal career in style and a local radio station even dedicated a show to him.
For two weeks after, he practiced law. During this period he had 15 clients.
Then Garcia was told that he could not have a license to practice law in California after all. A federal law passed in 1996 says that state agencies are not allowed to extend public benefits, including professional licenses, to people who are in the U.S. illegally, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.
A majority of the Supreme Court justices at the Garcia’s hearing were reluctant to grant him his license to practice law. “Congress wanted political accountability,” Supreme Justice Ming Chin said when he expressed his doubts about the court’s ability to grant Garcia a professional license without a specific law enacted by the state Legislature.
The other six Justices on the court all had very similar comments, arguing that the law does not allow them to make Garcia a lawyer unless the state Legislature acts.
Garcia’s case has received national attention and he has many supporters, including California Attorney General Kamal Harris who argues that citizenship status should not be a requirement to receive a California law license.
There are also those who are speaking against Garcia. Former State Bar prosecutor Larry Desha said “Garcia is not qualified to practice law because he continually violates federal law by his presence in the Unites States.”
“It doesn’t matter what comes your way, you cannot give up. You may have to circumvent a barrier, but as long as you’re alive, there’s still hope and still a chance that you are going to reach that dream,” Garcia said.
Sergio Garcia is currently supporting himself as a motivational speaker, and when he can find the work, as a paralegal.