SAN FRANCISCO – Sergio Garcia graduated from law school and passed the California state bar exam, but there’s one problem: he is an undocumented immigrant living in the US illegally. On Thursday, in a groundbreaking decision, California’s Supreme Court ruled that he must be given a legal license.
Although Garcia’s father is now a naturalized citizen, the two of them left Mexico when Garcia was a young boy and came to the US illegally to pick almonds. With his father sponsoring him, Garcia applied for citizenship in 1995, when he was 17 years old.
However, the naturalization process was lengthened considerably by the fact that Garcia had already turned 21 years old when his father finally became a citizen. Thus, Garcia’s application for a green card was categorized as that of an adult child of a US citizen, a line that is decades long. Now 36 years old, he is expected to receive his green card in 2019.
In the meantime, he has gone to community college and law school, worked as a paralegal, passed the bar exam, and has most recently been working as a motivational speaker.
“I think I’m going to continue doing that and fulfill my dream of practicing law,” Garcia has said.
Garcia’s case challenged a 1996 law that prohibits illegal immigrants from holding any kind of government-issued or publicly funded professional license in the US. The court case dates back to May 2012, when justices first said they would hear the case. Interestingly, the case also served as a point of disagreement between California legislation, which supported Garcia’s case, and Obama’s administration, who opposed licensing Garcia.
“I never in my life imagined it would take me longer to win my right to practice than it took to actually get my degree,” Garcia said.
News of the ruling has been met with varied reactions. Some see it as a victory for immigrants who, like Garcia, are living in the US illegally. In Garcia’s own words, the court’s decision serves as proof that hard work and dedication mean something in America.
Conversely, however, others, such as Mark Krikorian, the executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in favor of tightening controls on immigration, view it as a problem, or even “an absurdity." Krikorian has further described the ruling as “one more step toward elimination the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.”
Two similar cases are pending in Florida and New York.
Sources: The Huffington Post, NBC News
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