The California Supreme Court ruled today that a 36-year-old illegal immigrant who passed the state bar exam in 2009 should be allowed to legally practice law.
Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a baby, returned to Mexico at age 9 and illegally entered the U.S. again at age 17 with his family. He began the naturalization process in 1995 and said he’s in the queue to receive a green card but won’t get it until 2019 because of the limited number of visas available for the large number of Mexicans seeking residency.
Garcia attended Butte College, California State University at Chico, and Cal Northern School of Law. He received his law degree in May 2009.
“In response to questions on the State Bar’s application for determination of moral character, Garcia indicated that he is not a United States citizen and that his immigration status is ‘Pending,'” the state’s high court noted in its decision. “The Committee conducted an extensive investigation of Garcia’s background, employment history, and past activities, received numerous reference letters supporting Garcia’s application and attesting to his outstanding moral character and significant contributions to the community, and ultimately determined that Garcia possessed the requisite good moral character to qualify for admission to the State Bar.”
The bar found that Garcia had used a fake alien registration number to maintain employment, which Garcia said was the result of not speaking English well at the time and becoming “panicked” when asked to fill out the form.
Garcia was also cited once for driving without a license or registration, and sought a license in neighboring Oregon where proof of lawful residency wasn’t required. The investigating committee couldn’t ascertain whether he’d been in residency for the required six months before getting the Oregon driver’s license.
The committee “determined that none of these incidents impugns Garcia’s good moral character, and that the record as a whole establishes that Garcia possesses the requisite good moral character to warrant admission to the State Bar.”
“I never in my life imagined it would take me longer to win my right to practice than it took to actually get my degree,” Garcia said in response to the ruling. “I’m glad California is moving forward and I think we’re setting a good example for the rest of the country.”
On the national scale, a group called the DREAM Bar Association advocates for law licenses for its illegal immigrant membership. In response to Garcia’s case, the California State Legislature passed a law allowing illegal immigrants to practice law.
The Justice Department did file briefs arguing against a law license for Garcia, but later dropped its opposition.