As the federal government continues to drag its feet on passing a comprehensive immigration reform package, legislators on the state level have passed a series of laws addressing some of these matters. Among the statutes which have been passed in various states have been laws granting undocumented immigrants the right to obtain a state driver’s license, and the granting them the right to go to state colleges and universities at the “in-state” tuition rate. Now the California legislature has passed a law which would allow undocumented immigrants to become licensed to practice law in the state after having passed the state’s bar exam. Last week California’s Supreme Court ruled that a man from Chico, California can be licensed under the law. This ruling has the potential to ring throughout the U.S., even affecting undocumented immigrants in Austin.
The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously on January 2, 2014 not to block Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, from receiving a license to practice law in the state. In anticipation of the high court’s hearing on of the Garcia case a law permitting the practice was passed by the state’s legislature, and signed into law by the state’s governor, late last year. This law effectively removed any barrier to the court allowing the licensing. In California the Supreme Court is the ultimate authority in matters of attorney licensing.
Garcia has reportedly been in the United States since high school. He graduated law school and subsequently passed the California bar exam. He has reportedly been waiting on his green card for almost 10 years, and estimates that it could be several more years before he is granted permission to live and work in the United States.
At first the California Supreme Court did not seem to favor Garcia’s request. The Obama administration argued that it was unlawful for a state to grant a law license to an undocumented immigrant unless there was a state law which specifically addressed the matter. During arguments in fall 2013 the justices cited a possible conflict with federal law. They did give the legislature the opportunity to “fix” the issue, which was promptly done. What remains to be resolved is Garcia’s employability. According to federal law it is not lawful to knowingly employ someone who is in the country illegally. It is not clear if this prohibition would prevent Garcia from working in a pro bono capacity, or opening his own law firm. It is also unclear whether his participating in a legal case may cause legal issues for his clients.
As can be seen by this case, undocumented immigrants in the United States face numerous legal pitfalls to living a normal life and working to support themselves and their families. Austin immigration attorney at the Lyttle Law Firm have years of experience in helping our clients with just these kinds of issues. Contact us now at 512-215-5225 if you or anyone you know needs help with an immigration issue.