Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 2012
Illegal immigrants are ineligible to practice law in California, President Obama’s Justice Department told the state’s high court in a rebuff to a man who was brought to the United States as a toddler and worked his way through college and law school.
Federal law bars the state from issuing an attorney’s license to Sergio C. Garcia and would also prohibit him from working as a lawyer, the Justice Department said in a filing Wednesday with the court, which had requested its opinion.
The 1996 law, which denies “public benefits” to illegal immigrants, was drafted to “preclude undocumented aliens from receiving commercial and professional licenses issued by states and the federal government,” Justice Department lawyers told the court.
They disagreed with the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners and with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, both of whom have recommended that Garcia be admitted to the bar and said federal law leaves such issues up to the states. A similar case is pending in Florida.
His [Sergio Garcia’s] father, now a U.S. citizen, sponsored Garcia’s application for legal status and a green card in 1994. The government has found him eligible but put him on a waiting list for final approval, which could take at least another decade.
Garcia graduated from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico and passed the bar exam on his first try in 2009. But the state Supreme Court, which licenses attorneys in California, put his application on hold in May and said it would use the case to determine whether illegal immigrants are eligible to become lawyers.