Politics

Law school graduate fights to practice law

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A young law school graduate who has passed the bar exam is now fighting for the right to practice law. You may think it shouldn't be that hard to set up shop, but Sergio Garcia is not your average law school grad and his fate lies with the California Supreme Court.

Brought across the Mexican border illegally by his family as a child, Garcia worked his way through college and law school. On top of that, the Chico-area man passed the grueling California bar exam on his first try, but he can't open a practice until he gets his law license. The state Supreme Court is considering whether an undocumented immigrant can be given one.

"All I'm asking for is the opportunity to get out there and contribute to the economy that's suffering right now to my full potential," said Garcia.

Garcia now has the backing of Democratic lawmakers who introduced the State Bar Dream Resolution. It's not a law, but it sends a clear message to the justices.

"We are urging the court that it is our intent that simply being undocumented should not be a determining factor on whether or not you should get your law license," said Assm. Luis Alejo, D-Salinas.

Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California Bar filed briefs in support of giving Garcia his license. The Obama administration, on the other hand, opposes it, saying in its own legal filings, giving an undocumented immigrant a California law license violates a 1996 federal law, which denies giving "public benefits" to illegal immigrants. Other opponents say allowing people with Garcia's status to be attorneys undermines the justice system.

"If you're in violation of the law and your presence here is in violation of the law, then your first step as an attorney, you're disrespecting the law," said Assm. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.

President Obama's new policy that starts this week offers those 30 years and under legal status if they entered the United States before turning 16, attended school and have a clean criminal record. Garcia doesn't qualify for that because at 35-years-old, he's over the age limit.

But Garcia is anxious to help those who qualify fill out the paperwork even while his own case is in legal limbo.

"They ask me, 'Does it bother you? Are you crying because you don't qualify?' I said, 'No. I'm crying because I'm happy to be alive to see the day when you don't have to go through what I went through,'" said Garcia.

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