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SACRAMENTO – An illegal alien who has broken U.S. immigration law at least twice in his life has passed the California bar exam – and he’s urging the state’s Supreme Court to allow him to become a lawyer.
Sergio Garcia, a 35-year-old Mexican-born illegal alien, was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 17 months old, according to the Daily Journal.
Garcia’s family stayed in the U.S. until he was 9 years old. Then they returned to Mexico. According to Garcia, his father returned to the U.S. by himself and secured a green card under an immigration law passed in 1986 that granted amnesty to illegals who entered the U.S. before 1982.
At the age of 17, Garcia and the rest of his family returned to the U.S. illegally. He enrolled in high school and then applied for a green card. His application has been pending for 18 years. Garcia has been working in almond orchards and at a grocery store in the U.S. without documentation.
He enrolled in classes at a community college and attended Cal State Chico. After he graduated college, Garcia attended Cal Northern School of Law.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “He had imagined he would study criminal law but couldn’t come to grips with the idea of defending someone who might be guilty.”
Instead, he chose civil litigation and personal injury law.
Nonetheless, Garcia’s lawyer, Jerome Fishkin argued, “We think he meets all the requirements to become a lawyer.”
There are no citizenship or residency requirements for admission to the bar, Fishkin noted. In fact, he claims illegal-alien attorneys are currently practicing in California because they received their licenses before bar examiners inquired about citizenship.
According to the Times, requirements for practicing law in California include:
1) a juris doctor from an accredited law school,
2) a background check and
3) a positive finding of moral character.
Applicants are also asked for a Social Security Number, but they can be granted an exemption.
The State Bar of California certified Garcia after he took and passed a written test and a ethics exam. According to the Times, he was sworn in as a lawyer late last year at a Chico courthouse.
Garcia indicated that the bar began reconsidering his case after news media questioned his immigration status. His application is now at the California Supreme Court for approval. If Garcia is allowed to practice, the case could set a legal precedent for other illegal aliens who want to be attorneys.
Garcia believes the court will side with him – and he said he hopes the decision will open doors for many more illegal aliens to enter the field.
California isn’t the only state considering this scenario. Other cases are pending in Florida and New York.
In Florida, the state bar is seeking an opinion from the state Supreme Court on whether 25-year-old Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio and other illegal aliens may be granted law licenses. Godinez-Samperio’s parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 9 on a tourist visa.
At the time, William Gheen, president of the group Americans for Legal Immigration, told South Florida’s Sun Sentinel, “No one who has shown this guy’s level of contempt for American law should be practicing law.”
In April, Godinez-Samperio told MSNBC, “It makes me feel that we’re living in a … historical moment. I really think the last time something like this happened was when African Americans and women were admitted to the bar. I think if we win this, it’ll be another historical civil rights mark.”
John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University in Orange, told the Times he doesn’t believe the California Supreme Court will rule in favor of allowing Garcia to practice – because it is illegal to hire illegal aliens, and federal law prohibits him from receiving a professional license without state legislation allowing it.
But Holly Cooper, associate director of the immigration law clinic at U.C. Davis, told the Times she believes California should allow law graduates to practice if they pass the bar exam – even those who have entered the country illegally.
“If the decision doesn’t go well, it could be one more ceiling that an undocumented student will hit at some point,” she lamented.
According to the report, Adam Sorrells, a personal injury and civil litigation lawyer in Chico, employed Garcia as an intern in even let him make a court appearance.
“Here’s a guy that’s done everything right,” Sorrells said. “He has no criminal record, he’s worked all his life; he pays taxes; he treats people with respect and he’s nice to people…. When we look at society, at what we ask of our citizens, everything that Sergio has done with his life is what we expect of a good citizen, somebody who deserves to be a lawyer.”