On many occasions here, we have covered the notion that it seems almost anyone will be allowed, nay, encouraged to practice law in the United States. But it turns out that assumption isn’t entirely correct. For the time being, the bar appears to still be closed to at least one specific group: undocumented immigrants.

That might seem obvious, right? Well, what about an immigrant who was brought here illegally but has been waiting in line for citizenship for almost two decades? Sorry, if the DOJ has its way, no dice…

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the closely watched case of Sergio C. Garcia, which has caused an interesting rift between the California State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners and the DOJ:

Illegal immigrants are ineligible to practice law in California, President Obama’s Justice Department told the state’s high court in a rebuff to a man who was brought to the United States as a toddler and worked his way through college and law school.

Federal law bars the state from issuing an attorney’s license to Sergio C. Garcia and would also prohibit him from working as a lawyer, the Justice Department said in a filing Wednesday with the court, which had requested its opinion.

The 1996 law, which denies “public benefits” to illegal immigrants, was drafted to “preclude undocumented aliens from receiving commercial and professional licenses issued by states and the federal government,” Justice Department lawyers told the court.

The state of California, as well as Kamala Harris, the state Attorney General, want to admit Garcia to the State Bar, arguing “federal law leaves such issues up to the states,” according to the article. Garcia’s case is currently before the California Supreme Court. According to the WSJ Law Blog, the DOJ provided its opinion because the court asked for it.

I understand where DOJ is coming from. If that’s the law, I guess that’s the law. (Not to mention the fact that it’s not like we need more lawyers in this country anyway.) But what’s that they say about “bad facts making bad law”? I think this is one of those situations:

Garcia, who lives in Chico, was brought to California by his parents at age 2, returned to Mexico with them at 9 and came back with them at 17.

His father, now a U.S. citizen, sponsored Garcia’s application for legal status and a green card in 1994. The government has found him eligible but put him on a waiting list for final approval, which could take at least another decade.

Garcia graduated from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico and passed the bar exam on his first try in 2009. But the state Supreme Court, which licenses attorneys in California, put his application on hold in May and said it would use the case to determine whether illegal immigrants are eligible to become lawyers.

To recap: Garcia was first brought here illegally when he was 2. So, clearly he had a lot of choice in the matter. But more significantly, his father, who presumptively moved north illegally as well, is now a citizen. And Garcia has been “eligible” for citizenship and been on the waiting list since 1994 — since he was 17! If you put it another way, that’s almost half of his life. Back then Kurt Cobain was still alive and no one had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky.

Before everyone starts screaming, “go home, go back to your country!” Think about this: isn’t this the kind of person Americans want to be a citizen? Sounds like he’s worked hard, and he has gone through the appropriate steps to become legal. But how long should a would-be citizen be forced to wait?

Let us know your opinion in our poll:

Should Sergio Garcia be allowed to practice law, even though he is an illegal immigrant?

  • Yes, we don't need more lawyers, but it's only fair. (53%, 437 Votes)
  • No, the law Is the law. Besides, we don't need more lawyers. (47%, 386 Votes)

Total Voters: 822

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Illegal immigrant can’t be lawyer [San Francisco Chronicle]
DOJ: Illegal Immigrants Can’t Practice Law in the US [WSJ Law Blog]


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