Undocumented immigrant earns California law license
MANILA, Philippines – An undocumented Mexican immigrant now has a license to practice law in California, but finding a job with it may prove to be another challenge.
USA Today reports that the California Supreme Court granted Sergio Garcia – an immigrant brought by his parents to the US from Mexico at 17 months – a law license for practicing in California, citing a combination of federal and state laws.
Garcia graduated from Chico State University and the Cal Northern School of Law, passing the state bar exam in July 2009. A 1996 federal law barred him and others living in the country illegally from getting professional licenses.
Garcia's case brought about a different paradigm to that law, however, as the California Supreme Court justices noted a provision of the law allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses if states pass a law allowing it.
State lawmakers introduced a bill for this purpose in September, with Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signing it into law October 5. The law took effect on January 1, allowing the court to rule the following day that Garcia could have a law license.
The application of this ruling may prove to be more difficult, however, as the justices wrote that Garcia cannot work as an employee of a law firm or any other company due to federal laws prohibiting the hiring of unfocumented immigrants.
The opinion of the justices also added that he could do pro bono legal work, but was unclear on whether Garcia – as well as others that may eventually fall under similar circumstances – can work as lawyers on their own and keep their own clients.
The justices' opinion states, "We assume that a licensed undocumented immigrant will make all necessary inquiries and take appropriate steps to comply with applicable legal restrictions and will advise potential clients of any possible adverse or limiting effect the attorney's immigration status may pose."
According to the USA Today report, Deep Gulasekaram, who teaches immigration and constitutional law at the Santa Clara University School of Law, has said that potential clients wouldn't endanger themselves by hiring Garcia or another undocumented immigrant with a law license, since regular citizens entering into contracts are not required to check the immigration status of people they wish to hire.
Despite the new hurdles Garcia has to face, the ruling is a precedent that brings a sense of cautious hope to other undocumented immigrants, such as Cesar Vargas in New York. Brought to the US when he was 5, Vargas passed the New York state bar exam in November 2011.
Vargas himself says it's too early to gauge the impact of the ruling on other cases. Vargas remarked, "It's a great step, but it's only California."
"We still have to hear what New York and Texas and Florida and other states say. We still have a state-by-state battle." – Rappler.com