Law License to Illegal Immigrant?

Can an illegal immigrant become a lawyer? This is the question California’s Supreme Court deals with at the moment.

Sergio C.Garcia is an illegal immigrant who was brought into the United States by his parents from Mexico at the age of 17 months. He attended college in Chico (Butte County, California) and works as a paralegal.

He now asked the State Bar of California to admit him to practice law.

The State Bar certified him after he passed a written test and a moral examination. The bar then sent his case to the California Supreme Court for routine approval informing them at the same time that Garcia was an undocumented alien. Instead of a simple approval, the state high court ordered the bar to explain why an illegal immigrant should be given a legal license. 

The California Supreme Court will be considering whether state or federal laws preclude the Court from admitting an undocumented immigrant to the bar, and whether a law license would impliedly represent that an attorney can be legally employed. The court has also asked the California Committee of Bar Examiners to address the legal and public policy limitations on an undocumented immigrant’s ability to practice law.

The importance of that question shows when looking at its effects. With granting an illegal immigrant a license for law practice other licensed professions could have to admit undocumented immigrants, too (“flood gate argument”). The other question arising is what it means to give an illegal immigrant a certified status in his profession.

Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode, a legal ethicist, said she would be surprised if the court approved a legal license for Garcia before he obtained residency.

“It seems fairly inconsistent with a long line of decisions that officers of the court are forsworn to uphold the law and should not be seen to have defied it,” she said. But she also cautioned that Garcia could have a personally compelling case. 
“Some of these cases are really heart-wrenching on the facts, especially undocumented immigrants who are brought over to this country at a young age, who go through the school system, who managed to triumph over a lot of obstacles, and who have now invested all this money in a degree,” she said.
Garcia is not the only illegal immigrant seeking a law license. A similar case was brought before the Florida Supreme Court. Both decisions are yet to come.
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