clear
Wednesday September 2nd, 2015 12:27AM

California grants law license to undocumented immigrant

By The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The California Supreme Court granted a law license Thursday to a man who has been living in the U.S. illegally for two decades, a ruling that advocates hope will open the door to immigrants seeking to enter other professions such as medicine, nursing and accounting.

The unanimous decision means Sergio Garcia, who attended law school and passed the state bar exam while working in a grocery store and on farms, can begin practicing law immediately.

The decision is the latest in a string of legal and legislative victories for people who are living in the country without permission. Other successes include the creation of a path to citizenship for many young people and the granting of drivers licenses in many states.

"This is a bright new day in California history and bodes well for the future," the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said in a statement.

The court sided with state officials in the case, which pitted them against the White House over a 1996 federal law that bars people who are in the U.S. illegally from receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of public funds, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.

Bill Hing, a law professor at University of San Francisco, said the court made clear the only reason it granted Garcia's petition is that California recently approved a law authorizing the state to give law licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally, a measure inspired by Garcia's situation. The new law took effect Wednesday.

It was unclear how many people will qualify to practice law under the ruling and whether it will spread to other states. Legislatures and governors in more conservative states such as Alabama and Arizona are likely to be less receptive to the idea.

Garcia, who plans to be a personal injury attorney in his hometown of Chico, said he hoped the ruling would serve as a "beacon of hope" to others in the same situation.

He "can hang up a shingle and be his own company," said Hing, who represented the state bar in the case. "Once he does that, a client can retain him as a lawyer."

But some questions remain unresolved, such as whether Garcia can argue cases in federal court or in other states. Federal law makes it illegal for law firms to hire him.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who wrote the opinion, said the new state law removed any barrier to Garcia's quest for a license.

"And there is no other federal statute that purports to preclude a state from granting a license to practice law to an undocumented immigrant," Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

The court also found that Garcia "possesses the requisite good moral character" to be admitted to the state bar.

Garcia arrived in the U.S. as a teenager to pick almonds with his father, who was a permanent legal resident. His father filed a petition in 1994 seeking an immigration visa for his son. It was accepted in 1995, but because of the backlog of visa applications from people from Mexico, Garcia has never received a visa number.

He applied for citizenship in 1994 and is still working toward that goal.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued that Garcia was barred from receiving his law license because the court's entire budget comes from the public treasury, a violation of the federal mandate that no public money be used to grant licenses to people who are in the country without permission.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Tenney, who argued the case, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The Obama administration's position in the case came as a surprise to some, since the White House has shielded from deportation people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, graduated from high school and kept a clean criminal record.

At a hearing in September, a majority of the state Supreme Court justices appeared reluctant to grant Garcia the license under current state and federal law, saying it prohibited them from doing so unless the Legislature acted.

Garcia, 36, worked in the fields and at a grocery store before attending community college. He then became a paralegal, went to law school and passed the bar on his first try. His effort to get licensed was supported by state bar officials and California's attorney general, who argued that citizenship is not a requirement to receive a California law license.

Two other similar cases are pending in Florida and New York, and the Obama administration has made it clear it will oppose bar entry to immigrants unless each state's Legislature passes its own laws allowing it, Hing said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris had supported Garcia's petition, and applauded the court's ruling.

Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for Harris, said California's success "has hinged on the hard work and self-sufficiency of immigrants like Sergio."
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 8 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 8 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 8 months ago )
U.S. News
State DOT awards $48M contract for NE Ga. road project
The state Department of Transportation has awarded a $47.8 million contract for nine miles of work on a northeast Georgia road.
9:37AM ( 8 months ago )
Business News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 8 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 8 months ago )
Maysville man dies from Banks County wreck
The Georgia State Patrol reports that alcohol and/or drugs were factors a single-vehicle wreck that claimed the life of a Maysville man in Banks County Tuesday night.
11:07AM ( 8 months ago )
Local/State News
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 8 months ago )
Conviction of Putin foe sets off protest in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin's chief political foe was convicted along with his brother on Tuesday in a fraud case widely seen as a vendetta by the Kremlin, triggering one of Russia's boldest anti-government demonstrations in years.
6:03PM ( 8 months ago )
More Georgians signing up for health insurance
A federal report says more Georgians have selected health insurance plans through a federally facilitated marketplace.
4:16PM ( 8 months ago )
Politics
In Alaska wilderness, Obama stares down melting glacier to sound alarm on climate change
SEWARD, Alaska (AP) — President Barack Obama stared down a melting glacier in Alaska on Tuesday in a dramatic use of his presidential pulpit to sound the alarm on climate change.From a distance, Exit...
11:29PM ( 57 minutes ago )
China leads Asian stock markets lower after poor factory data reinforce investor nervousness
HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks extended a global market sell-off Wednesday as poor manufacturing data from the world's two biggest economies dampened investor sentiment.KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Comp...
11:03PM ( 1 hour ago )
Thousands without power after monsoon storm hits Phoenix area, damages buildings, cars
PHOENIX (AP) — Thousands of Phoenix-area residents and businesses, including a food bank, remained without power a day after a monsoon storm knocked down trees, damaged buildings and toppled a tractor...
10:50PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: GOP nominee for governor supports clerk's refusal to issue gay marriage license
MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — The latest on a Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against her (all times local):6 p.m.Kentucky's Republican nomi...
6:05PM ( 6 hours ago )
Clinton, aides stressed need to protect sensitive State Department information in email
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton and her aides at the State Department were acutely aware of — and occasionally frustrated by — the need to protect sensitive information when discussing intern...
2:56PM ( 9 hours ago )