State Bar Asks High Court to Let Illegal Immigrant Practice Law

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Sergio C. Garcia (photo: David Bartletti, McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

Sergio C. Garcia wants to be a lawyer. He put himself through college and law school, passed the bar examination on his first try in 2009 and applied for admittance to the bar in 2011. There is only one thing standing between him and a promising legal career.

Garcia is an illegal immigrant.

Now it’s up to the California Supreme Court to decide if he can practice law. On Monday, the State Bar weighed in on his side, arguing in a court filing that “there is no reason to believe he cannot take the oath and faithfully uphold his duties as an attorney.”

Garcia, 35, was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents when he was 17 months old. He returned to Mexico with them when he was 9 and came back to the United States at 17. He was working as a paralegal when he applied to the bar and is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship, which could take up to 15 years.  

Critics of allowing Garcia to join the bar argue that federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving any “state or local public benefit,” including a professional license provided by a “state agency.” The other law forbids employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. Critics also argue that the very act of being an illegal immigrant constitutes “moral turpitude,” a disqualifying act for admittance to the bar.  

Garcia’s response: “What was my moral duty at 17 months?”

Supporters say the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that federal courts aren’t government agencies and that Garcia could practice law as an independent contractor, sidestepping both stumbling blocks. The bar argued that the California high court addressed many of these same issues in 1972 when it ruled unconstitutional a law that said only U.S. citizens could practice law in the state.

A hearing date has not yet been scheduled by the court.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Bar Says Let Illegal Immigrant Practice Law (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

Should the California Bar Accept this Illegal Immigrant? (by Jacob Sapochnick, Visa Lawyer blog)

California Bar Weighs Illegal Immigrant's Application (Associated Press)

Why We Should Find a Way for Sergio C. Garcia to Practice Law (by Scott Herhold, San Jose Mercury-News)

Can an Undocumented Immigrant Be Admitted to Practice? California Supreme Court Must Decide (ABA Journal)

Ethics Dunce: The California State Bar (by Jack Marshall, Ethics Alarms blog)

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