SACRAMENTO, July 31 (Reuters) - A law school graduate
seeking to join the California bar despite his status as an
illegal immigrant may soon become a test case for other young
and undocumented professionals as the state's highest court
weighs whether he can be admitted to practice law.
The state Supreme Court is mulling the case of 35-year-old
Sergio Garcia, who has already found strong support both from
California's attorney general and the state bar association. The
court has requested guidance from the U.S. Justice Department on
the matter that could come as early as Wednesday.
The case is the latest battleground in the nation's
immigration wars that have seen the Obama administration grant
leniency to some young illegal immigrants brought to the country
as children even as a number of states have sought to crack down
on illegal immigrants within their borders.
Garcia, who passed the bar exam, was brought to the United
States when he was 17 months old by his parents. They left to
return to their native Mexico when Garcia was eight or nine,
only to return to the United States again when he was 17.
His father was a U.S. permanent resident at the time, and
later became a citizen. In 1994, he filed a petition for his son
to be granted an immigrant visa. Approved in 1995, Garcia has
been waiting 17 years for a visa that will allow him to become a
lawful permanent resident and, eventually, a citizen.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the case, but
could soon weigh in after requesting in mid-July that it be
granted an extension to Aug. 1 to file a brief with its views on
the matter. That opinion will carry weight for similar cases in
Florida and New York.
"I am very hopeful and confident that they will weigh in my
favor," Garcia told Reuters, declining to comment further.
Garcia has already won support from state Attorney General
Kamala Harris, who wrote an amicus brief to the state Supreme
Court urging that he be admitted to the bar and describing him
as "a model of the self-reliant and self-sufficient immigrant."
Critics, however, say that allowing immigrants who are in
the country illegally to become lawyers undermines the justice
system, and that they should become legal immigrants first.
"Mr. Garcia is not qualified to practice law because he
continually violates federal law by his presence in the United
States," retired prosecutor for the state bar of California,
Larry DeSha, wrote in an opposition brief.
The California Supreme Court has not given any indication of
how long it might take to make a decision on Garcia's case after
it receives guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.
LIKEWISE IN FLORIDA, NEW YORK
Whatever the guidance, it could impact the cases of other
young law school graduates in other states who find themselves
in similar circumstances including a case that is making its way
through Florida's legal system.
A 26-year-old Eagle Scout who has the backing of his former
law professors at the Florida State University College of Law to
enter the legal profession, Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio arrived
in the United States at the age of nine, when his parents
illegally carried him across the border from Mexico.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners asked that state's
Supreme Court for guidance on whether Godinez-Samperio and
others like him could be admitted to the state bar association
as full-fledged lawyers. The court has yet to issue an opinion.
In New York, immigrant rights activist Cesar Vargas finds
himself in a similar position. A law school graduate, he passed
the bar exam and will face the same issues when he applies to be
admitted to the bar as a lawyer.
Vargas was brought to the United States from Mexico when he
was five years old. He put himself through college and then law
school thanks to private scholarships and community support.
"My graduation was bittersweet, since I was accomplishing
something that made my family proud, but knew I wasn't going to
be a lawyer because of my status," Vargas told Reuters.
The Obama administration announced in June that hundreds of
thousands of illegal immigrants brought into the United States
as children will be able to avoid deportation and get work
That move was a nod to supporters of the DREAM Act,
legislation that would allow certain children of illegal
immigrants to stay in the United States to pursue college
education and jobs and put them on a path to citizenship.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson)
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