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California Supreme Court Rules Undocumented Immigrant Can Receive Law License


California’s Supreme Court ruled on January 2, 2014, that Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who received a law degree and passed the state bar exam in 2009, must be given his license to practice law in California. Mr. Garcia came to the United States from Mexico when he was 17 months old.

Mr. Garcia lived in California until 1986 (when he was 9 years old) and then he and his parents moved back to Mexico. In 1994, when Garcia was 17 years old, he and his parents returned to California; again he entered the country without documentation. His father obtained U.S. citizenship in 1999. His father has filed a green card petition for Mr. Garcia, but it remains stuck in a long backlog.

The court noted that in response to questions on the California state bar’s application for determination of moral character, Mr. Garcia stated that he is not a United States citizen and that his immigration status was “pending.” A bar 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 determined that Mr. Garcia possessed the requisite good moral character to qualify for admission to the state bar. The committee told the California Supreme Court that, to its knowledge, “this is a case of first impression, as we are not aware of any other jurisdiction that has ever knowingly admitted an undocumented alien to the practice of law.”

“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. I’m glad California is moving forward and I think we’re setting a good example for the rest of the country,” Mr. Garcia said after the decision.

California’s legislature passed a law in 2013 stating that undocumented immigrants could obtain legal licenses, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it. Similar cases are pending in New York and Florida.

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Ivener & Fullmer LLP, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.

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