The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an undocumented man living in the United States who graduated from law school and passed the state bar exam should be granted a legal license. The decision means Sergio Garcia can begin practicing law despite his immigration status.
“I’m speechless, tired, relieved,” Garcia, 36, said after the ruling came down following his nearly five-year battle to obtain a law license. “I’m glad it’s over.”
On May 16, 2012 the California Supreme Court announced it would hear his case and it quickly became high-profile. Last fall the California state legislature passed a bill making it legal for an undocumented immigrant to get a law license. Governor Brown signed AB1024 on October 5, 2013, and the law went into effect January 1, 2014.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Garcia’s parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby, then returned to Mexico when he was 9. When Garcia was 17, he crossed the border illegally back into California, where he picked almonds in the fields with his father and worked at a grocery store while attending school. He graduated from high school, attended Chico State University and graduated from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009. His parents had never set foot inside a schoolroom, yet Garcia passed the California bar on his first try.
After graduating from law school, passing the bar and meeting all other requirements, Mr. Garcia was prevented from practicing law due to his undocumented status.
Garcia has said that he believes being undocumented should not deter him from being what he referred to as a productive member of society and paying taxes.
Garcia had done his part by applying for residency two years before the 1996 federal law passed – stating state agencies can’t extend public benefits, including professional licenses, to people who are not in the country legally. His application for a green card has been pending for the last 19 years, since Nov. 18, 1994, and it is expected to arrive in 2019 – when he turns 41.
Garcia didn’t quite make the cut for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allowing those who were brought as children to qualify for legal status, because last year when the federal policy was enacted, he was 35 and the cutoff age was 30.
“I’m very deportable,” he joked with the Los Angeles Times in September. “And if I don’t shut up, I might be sooner or later.”
Regardless of the uncertainty of his future in the U.S., Garcia remained positive and was a motivational speaker, speaking to high school students about the value of an education.
“Everyone thinks I want to be an immigration attorney,” Garcia said to the Los Angeles Times. “No, no, never, never! Personal injury! When someone calls and says, ‘I am injured,’ they are hurt, I can get them medical help they need and peace of mind and not have insurance companies harassing them.”