In an article at Law.Com this past week, undocumented immigrant, Sergio Garcia, is challenging the California Supreme Court for his right to become an attorney. Garcia’s application for a green card has been pending for 18 years, when his father applied for him when he was 17. Seems a mighty long time to wait for a green card.
Garcia enrolled in community college and later transferred to California State University, Chico, where he had to pay out-of-state tuition rates because of his undocumented status. After taking four years of night classes, Garcia received his J.D. from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico in May 2009. He passed the bar exam on his first try two months later.
Garcia said he never worried that his immigration status would stop him from becoming a lawyer. Prior to 2008 the bar didn’t ask applicants about their residency, a spokeswoman confirmed. But when Garcia applied for his moral character review in late 2009 he got the question. He wrote in the answer “pending.” Months went by with no response.
“Everybody told me, ‘Sergio, you sound like a nice guy, but it’s nothing we want to get involved in. It’s a personal struggle,’” he said. “At that point I started googling State Bar law firms.” That’s when he found the husband-and-wife legal team of Jerome Fishkin and Lindsay Slatter, whose three-attorney Walnut Creek firm specializes in cases involving applications and disciplinary cases pending before the State Bar.
Last fall, the Committee on Bar Examiners forwarded its recommendation that Garcia be admitted to the bar to the state Supreme Court. Fishkin said he and Slatter figured the case would be settled one way or the other, in private, with a minute order. But then in May, the court publicly asked for briefing in the case.
The Committee of Bar Examiners, as well as attorney general Kamala Harris, has argued that Garcia should be admitted to the bar because law licensure is the purview of the state Supreme Court, not the federal government.
Even though the Obama administration has opposed his bid to join the State Bar, Garcia has spent recent days helping young adults apply for so-called deferred action, the new federal program that will protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, at least temporarily. Garcia is four years too old to qualify for the deferral. He said he’s not bitter.
Garcia is keenly aware that his story reads like a made-for-the-big-screen tale. That’s why the ambitious 35-year-old is writing his autobiography. Publishers and producers are already calling, he said.
“It’s on hold for now,” Garcia said in a recent interview. “I’m waiting for the happy ending.”
Another California case worth watching. What are your thoughts on Mr. Garcia’s case?