California court rules undocumented immigrant can practice law

Posted at 11:34 AM, Jan 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-03 11:37:15-05

(CNN) – Sergio Garcia, a 36-year-old undocumented immigrant in California, has held two lifelong dreams: to become a U.S. citizen and to practice law.

He’s been waiting 19 years for a visa still stuck in a backlog, but the California Supreme Court ensured this week that his second dream will become a reality.

Garcia can be admitted to California’s state bar and legally practice as a lawyer there, the court ruled.

“I’m super excited to finally be able to fulfill one of my dreams,” Garcia told CNN Friday.

But the case raises many questions, particularly among those who have been critical of Garcia’s efforts to practice law. They question how someone who is in the country without legal status can be licensed to uphold the law as an attorney.

Garcia says that this is an easy initial response to make, but that looking at the details of his case, it is not so clear-cut. He was brought to the United States as a minor and has been in line for 19 years for a green card. If anyone feels frustrated the the situation, they should address it with the federal government, Garcia said.

It’s the immigration system that’s broken, he said.

Garcia was born in Mexico in 1977 and taken to California by his parents when he was 17 months old, according to court documents.

He remained there until 1986, when he and his parents returned to Mexico. Eight years later, at age 17, Garcia again returned to California with his parents and without documentation, though his father had obtained permanent resident status in the United States.

That year, Garcia’s father filed an immigration visa petition on his son’s behalf, which federal immigration officials accepted in 1995. The visa still has not been granted, even though Garcia has lived in the state since 1994.

California’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday (PDF) that no state law or public policy should stop Garcia or others like him from obtaining a law license in the state.

Asked why he didn’t choose a different career or pursue other opportunities, Garcia said law was his singular focus.

“I wasn’t smart and put all my eggs into one basket,” he said. “This whole idea of being an attorney was the only idea I had going, so 20 years of working on that dream, I couldn’t really afford to give up on it.”

“That, and I’m a little bit stubborn, anyway,” Garcia added.

Now that he has a law license, however, one thing that Garcia will not specialize in is immigration law.

“Oh, no, that’s just too messed up,” he said.