Status bars him from law practice
Vida en el Valle
(Published Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 10:50AM)
SACRAMENTO -- Sergio C. García was ten years old when he discovered his life's dream: to become a lawyer.
The 35-year-old native of Michoacán, México was just a toddler when his parents Salvador and Albertina decided to uproot and move to the United States. They sought a better life, desperate to find a way out of extreme poverty.
As migrant farmworkers, they settled in Chico and taught their eight children, including García, the importance of education.
At first, García didn't show too much interest in school until his father, an American citizen, and his mother, a lawful permanent resident, decided to return to México when he was eight years old. Years later as a teenager, he returned to the United States with his parents -- never losing sight of his dream.
Today, García who completed his elementary and high school education in México and the United States, graduated from the Cal Northern School of Law in 2009 and passed the California Bar Exam on his first try that same year.
García now finds himself in the midst of a legal battle. In the coming weeks, the California Supreme Court will determine whether García, an undocumented immigrant who is currently waiting for a visa he applied for in 1994, will be able to practice law.
"I believe it is important we have more lawyers in our community who embody good values and ethics and who work extremely hard to achieve their dreams," said former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
Last Tuesday, García joined his family, members of the Latino Legislative Caucus, legislators and immigrant advocates at the state Capitol where Assemblymember Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, introduced a resolution in support of García.
"Sergio embodies what it means to achieve the American Dream. He did everything right, followed the rules and took advantage of opportunities to achieve his dreams. Sergio deserves to be a practicing lawyer in this state," said Alejo at a press conference.
Last week, the Assembly passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution 167 (ACR 167) -- otherwise known as the "State Bar DREAM Resolution" -- which states that an applicant's immigration status should not be the determining factor in deciding whether to approve a state bar law license.
"It is our duty to defend people like Sergio who have defied the odds and overcome substantial obstacles to get to where they are today. To have completed his entire education with no financial assistance from the state or his family is an incredible feat that not many take regardless of ethnic background," said Alejo.
"California wants and needs more people like Sergio who exemplifies hard work and determination," said Assemblymember Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus.
García, who briefly worked as an attorney for almost two years until the State Bar of California questioned his immigration status, had met all of the requirements to be a practicing lawyer in California.
While García's case is pending litigation, the caucus filed an amicus curiae brief last month supporting his right to practice law in the state, arguing that California has been moving toward a policy of inclusion rather than exclusion of undocumented immigrants brought into the United States by their parents as children, regardless of federal authorization to work, according to court documents.
Further, the brief states that California has a long history of protecting the education rights of undocumented students. They cite the court's reversal of most of 1994's Proposition 187, the voter-approved measure which denied undocumented students a free public education.
In 2005, California passed legislation permitting foreign non-citizens to take the state bar exam and apply for admission. This year, Gov. Brown signed the California DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to apply for state financial aid and other private scholarships.
Court documents also point out President Obama's efforts to stop the deportation of undocumented children through 'deferred action' and allowing them to obtain work permits for the next two years is a "policy of inclusion."
But for García, practicing law is a dream he wants to make a reality.
"I have been working really, really hard for a very long time and I am not asking for much. I just want to be able to put my law degree to good use and give back to my community in the way that I always have," said García, who worked full-time at a grocery store while attending college.
Still, he couldn't hold back the tears when he shared the main reason why he went into law in the first place.
"When I was growing up in my community, I saw a lot of injustice and inequality. I knew that if I wanted things to change and get better for me, my family or the community, I needed to be that agent of change so I went to law school," said García.
García's case is not unique. Currently there are two separate cases in Florida and New York, respectively where the fate of young, undocumented lawyers and their ability to practice law having passed all the exams and met all of the requirements, will be able to practice law.
While he waits his fate, García believes immigration status should not be a reason to hold back from achieving ones dreams.
"I know that there are many people out there who no longer believe in the American Dream because of our bad economy. But, it's not dead. Despite my legal status in this country, I am the product of the American Dream and there are others who are pursing it. I intend to continue moving forward," said García.