Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Immigrant fights to become Calif. lawyer

Sergio Garcia, 36, graduated from law school, passed the state’s bar examination on his first try and has a clean criminal record.

Associated Press

Sergio Garcia, 36, graduated from law school, passed the state’s bar examination on his first try and has a clean criminal record.

SAN FRANCISCO — Sergio Garcia's request that the state Supreme Court grant him a law license was met with resistance and skepticism Wednesday by several justices because he is living in the United States illegally.

A federal law passed by Congress in 1996 bars immigrants in the country illegally from receiving "professional licenses" from government agencies or with the use of public funds.

The case is pitting the Obama administration against California Attorney General Kamala Harris and state bar officials, who insist an applicant's citizenship status has nothing to do with whether someone like Garcia who graduated from law school, passed the state's bar examination and has a clean criminal record, can obtain a license.

The Obama administration argues otherwise and is opposed to Garcia receiving his law license.

The state Supreme Court is in charge of licensing lawyers in California and the arguments boiled down to whether public money would be used in its licensing of Garcia. Lawyers for Garcia and the California State bar also argued that Congress meant to exempt attorney licenses from the law because they are issued by courts and not agencies.

A U.S. Department of Justice lawyer argued that Garcia is barred from receiving his law license because the court's entire budget comes from the public treasury.

"A law license is a professional license," assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Tenney said. "Congress meant to prohibit all professional licenses."

Justice Goodwin Liu also made that argument during questioning of the lawyers, saying it was "commonsensical" that Congress meant to include lawyer licenses in the law.

Liu, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was joined by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and at least two other members of the seven-judge court who expressed significant misgivings about awarding Garcia a law license.

Garcia arrived in the United States illegally 20 years ago to pick almonds in the field with his father.

Working the fields and at a grocery store, he attended community college, studying to become a paralegal, and then law school. Garcia passed the California bar on the first try, a boast that Brown, former Gov. Peter Wilson and nearly 50 percent of all first-time test takers can't make.

The dispute is the latest high-profile immigration clash between state and federal laws. Usually, it's the Obama administration opposing state laws in Arizona and elsewhere thought to be anti-immigrant.

The Obama position surprised some, since it had recently adopted a program that shields people who were brought to the United States as children, graduated high school and have kept a clean criminal record from deportation and allows them to legally work in the country.

At 36, Garcia is too old to qualify for the Obama program. But he and the immigration groups supporting Garcia argue that he is exactly the type of candidate the Obama administration had in mind when it adopted its program.

"I was very upset by" the administration's position, he said. "I worked hard and have never been a burden to the state."

But legal scholars and others say Garcia faces a number of obstacles even if he wins his law license.

Garcia will have to work for himself because no law firm or other employers could legally hire him. And he may be automatically disqualified from representing certain clients and taking on some types of cases because of his citizenship status.

The California Supreme Court has 90 days to rule after Wednesday's arguments.

Immigrant fights to become Calif. lawyer 09/04/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 11:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SINGAPORE — A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer collided with a tanker early Monday in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca, and at least 10 sailors are missing.

    The Navy said five others were hurt.

  2. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion

    Fire

    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  3. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Tampa man turns himself in for Sunday hit and run fatality

    Public Safety

    A Tampa man was arrested early Sunday after he struck and killed a pedestrian, left the scene, and then called 911 to turn himself in.