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California Supreme Court Holds Undocumented Immigrants Can Practice Law
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Finally, Sergio Garcia’s fight to win a law license has ended. But, as the New York Times observed astutely, he is “allowed to join the bar, but not to take a job.” The unanimous ruling of the California Supreme Court, this Thursday, observed that in light of the new California legislation, it did not need to determine whether an undocumented immigrant was ineligible to obtain a law license.

The court observed that the newly enacted California statute – Business and Professions Code section 6064, subdivision (b) which became effective on January 1, 2014 removes obstacle to Garcia’s admission to the State Bar, that may have been posed by other provisions of the federal statute restricting eligibility of an undocumented immigrant joining a legal profession.

  
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However, the decision also observed that though all obstacles for undocumented immigrants to becoming lawyers in California have been removed, the new law did not address or fully resolve the legal issues. The court still needed to determine, as a matter of state law, whether there is any reason why undocumented immigrants in general, should not be admitted to the State Bar. There is a further need to resolve whether a specific applicant, in this case Garcia should not be admitted to the State Bar.

While in this case, the court decided in favor of Garcia on both the issues. The court did not address the problem under federal law. No law firm, public agency or a business will hire an undocumented immigrant legally. The only current option open to Garcia is to start his own law firm.

Garcia told the NYTimes in a telephonic interview, “There’s a lot to celebrate. I can open my own law firm, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. There’s no law in this country restricting entrepreneurs.” If things go smoothly, California may soon have the nation’s first law firm by an undocumented immigrant.

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Summary:

California Supreme Court grants Sergio C. Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, license to practice law in California and admits him to the State Bar. This ruling explicitly authorizes the Supreme Court to admit to the State Bar an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States and who has fulfilled the requirements to practice law. The California Supreme Court ruling explained that in light of the new California legislation, it did not need to determine whether an undocumented immigrant was ineligible to obtain a law license by virtue of the provisions of 8 U.S.C. sections 1621, subsections (a) and (c).





 

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