The Obama administration has taken a stand in a case before the California Supreme Court concerning Sergio Garcia, an undocumented law school graduate who passed the bar exam and has applied to be admitted to the state bar. And it’s not good.
In an amicus brief the Department of Justice filed today, the federal government said that the state’s Supreme Court doesn’t have the right to grant a license to Garcia, even though he’s otherwise cleared the requirements laid out in the state bar’s admissions policy. The Obama administration said it was Garcia’s immigration status which made him ineligible, citing a 1996 federal immigration law which bars undocumented immigrants from accessing public benefits like welfare and healthcare unless a state passes a specific law granting them those rights. The Department of Justice argued that California’s Supreme Court, which usually handles matters of who should and shouldn’t be admitted to the state bar, therefore doesn’t have the right to admit an undocumented immigrant to the bar.
Garcia is one of three undocumented law school grads who’ve successfully passed their state bar exams and are petitioning to be admitted to their state bars. Similar cases in Florida and New York and moving ahead.
It’s not an open and shut case though. Among those who’ve weighed in in support of Garcia are the California State Bar, the ACLU and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris. Garcia’s supporters have argued that the requirements for admission to the state bar make no mention of immigration status, and that much as it would bother immigration restrictionists, granting undocumented immigrants law licenses wouldn’t be a move effectively giving them the right to work legally in the country.
Still, it’s the idea of undocumented immigrants representing the law, more than the highly technical legal conundrum, that most people who oppose Garcia’s efforts get stuck on. Undocumented immigrant law school students and graduates, meanwhile, have pledged to keep up their fight, even organizing a group to advocate for each other and other immigrants’ rights.