Cal­i­for­nia court lets il­le­gal im­mi­grant be­come lawyer

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court ruled Thurs­day that an il­le­gal im­mi­grant can join the bar and be­gin to prac­tice law in that state, grant­ing a ma­jor sym­bolic vic­tory to im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates who say it’s a step on the path to equal treat­ment in em­ploy­ment law.

Re­buff­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ar­gu­ments, the jus­tices unan­i­mously de­cided in fa­vor of Ser­gio C. Gar­cia, an il­le­gal im­mi­grant who was twice brought across the bor­der il­le­gally by his par­ents, even­tu­ally earned a law de­gree from a Cal­i­for­nia school and has been try­ing to join the bar for years.

Chief Jus­tice Tani Can­tilSakauye said state leg­is­la­tion signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown re­moved the fi­nal bar­ri­ers and Mr. Gar­cia can be li­censed, even though he is not in the coun­try legally.

“We con­clude that the fact that an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant’s pres­ence in this coun­try vi­o­lates fed­eral statutes is not it­self a suf­fi­cient or per­sua­sive ba­sis for deny­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, as a class, ad­mis­sion to the state bar,” the chief jus­tice wrote.

The case was be­ing mon­i­tored closely by all sides in the broader im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, where ev­ery le­gal vic­tory or de­feat is con­sid­ered a barom­e­ter.

“It’s def­i­nitely pos­i­tive, but I will be cheer­ing when I see Ser­gio and our other mem­bers in Cal­i­for­nia sworn in as lawyers,” said Ce­sar Var­gas, who helped form the Dream Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, a group in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances as Mr. Gar­cia.

Mr. Var­gas has pe­ti­tioned to join the New York State Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, while another case in­volv­ing Jose Godinez-Sam­pe­rio is pend­ing in Florida.

“This cer­tainly puts pres­sure on New York be­cause New York has a sim­i­lar statute that may al­low un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants to prac­tice law. But Florida doesn’t have any­thing sim­i­lar which still high­lights that each state can still de­cide whether to li­cense some­one or not,” Mr. Var­gas said.

It’s still il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law for a firm or gov­ern­ment agency to hire Mr. Gar­cia, who does not have fed­eral work au­tho­riza­tion. But the jus­tices said they would leave it up to Mr. Gar­cia to po­lice him­self and to be hon­est with po­ten­tial clients about what cases he can­not take.

“This court’s grant­ing of a law li­cense to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants would not over­ride or oth­er­wise af­fect the fed­eral lim­i­ta­tions upon the em­ploy­ment of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants,” Chief Jus­tice Can­til-Sakauye wrote. “None­the­less, for a num­ber of rea­sons we con­clude that ex­ist­ing fed­eral lim­i­ta­tions on the em­ploy­ment of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants do not jus­tify ex­clud­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants from ad­mis­sion to the State Bar.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion supports le­gal­iza­tion of the na­tion’s il­le­gal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion and has im­ple­mented poli­cies that have al­lowed mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants to re­main in the U.S. with lit­tle dan­ger of de­por­ta­tion.

But the Jus­tice Depart­ment has op­posed bar ad­mis­sions for those in the coun­try il­le­gally, ar­gu­ing in court fil­ings that grant­ing a pro­fes­sional li­cense is a step too far. Depart­ment at­tor­neys ar­gued that giv­ing Mr. Gar­cia a li­cense to prac­tice law was a vi­o­la­tion of the fed­eral man­date that no pub­lic money be used to grant li­censes to peo­ple who are in the coun­try with­out per­mis­sion.

Be­ing able to ap­ply may not be the end of Mr. Gar­cia’s fight. Larry De­Sha, a Cal­i­for­nia-based lawyer who has fought Mr. Gar­cia’s ap­pli­ca­tion, ar­gued that it would be il­le­gal for an il­le­gal im­mi­grant to en­ter into a con­tract with a client, even as an in­de­pen­dent lawyer. Mr. De­Sha also said giv­ing Mr. Gar­cia the im­pri­matur of a li­cense could mis­lead po­ten­tial clients.

“The best way to pro­tect the pub­lic in this mat­ter is to deny his ad­mis­sion to prac­tice un­til he be­comes le­gal, can take the oath of of­fice truth­fully, can be hired for pay and can en­ter into le­gal fee con­tracts,” Mr. De­Sha wrote in a court fil­ing in early De­cem­ber.

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