Sergio Garcia can practice law in California, the state Supreme Court ruled today, but he still cannot get paid or charge clients because of federal law. A state law that took effect on January 1 gave the state high court room to approve Garcia's application for a license to practice the profession. “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 unanimous opinion. Justice Ming Chin also filed a short concurring opinion.
Garcia, who is 36, was born in Mexico, lived in the U.S. until age 9 then returned to Mexico. He reentered the U.S. illegally at age 17 and does not have a green card. Garcia has been waiting four years for admission to the State Bar. From the court's documentation:
Sergio Garcia, the applicant in the case before the court, was born in Mexico in 1977, and was brought to California, without inspection or documentation by immigration officials, when he was 17 months old. He lived in California until he was nine years old, was brought back to Mexico by his parents for a number of years, and then returned with his parents to California, again without inspection or documentation, when he was 17 years old. Soon thereafter, on November 18, 1994, Garcia’s father, who had obtained lawful permanent resident status, filed an immigration visa petition on Garcia’s behalf; the visa petition was accepted by federal immigration officials in January 1995. Under federal immigration law, the visa petition provides Garcia with a basis for adjustment of his immigration status to that of a lawful permanent resident when an immigration visa number becomes available, but, under current federal law, the number of available immigration visas that may be issued each year is limited and is based upon an applicant’s country of origin. Because the backlog of persons of Mexican origin who are seeking immigrant visas is so large, as of the date of the court’s opinion — more than 19 years after Garcia’s visa petition was filed — a visa number still has not become available for Garcia and may not become available for many years.
Garcia has lived in California since 1994. During this time, he graduated from high school, attended Butte College, California State University at Chico, and Cal Northern School of Law. He received his law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in May 2009, and took and passed the 2009 California bar examination. In his State Bar application, Garcia indicated that he is not a United States citizen and that his immigration status is “Pending.” The Committee of Bar Examiners conducted an extensive investigation of Garcia’s background, employment history, and past activities, received numerous reference letters supporting his application and attesting to his outstanding moral character and significant contributions to the community, and determined that Garcia possessed the requisite good moral character to qualify for admission to the State Bar. The Committee submitted Garcia’s name to the Supreme Court for admission to the State Bar, and at the same time brought to the court’s attention the fact that Garcia does not have legal immigration status in the United States. The Committee stated that its motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar presented a matter of first impression, noting that it was unaware of any jurisdiction that has ever knowingly admitted an undocumented immigrant to the practice of law.