A group of 50 immigration law professors have signed on to an amicus brief in support of an undocumented immigrant’s attempt to win admission to the State Bar of California.
Sergio Garcia’s case is before the California Supreme Court, which must decide whether the state bar legally can admit him to practice.
The state’s Committee of Bar Examiners has recommended that Garcia be admitted. In a brief filed last month, the committee argued that federal immigration law doesn’t control attorney admissions, which are up to state authorities. Federal law may prevent Garcia from being employed, the committee added, but if admitted he still could perform pro bono work or function as an independent contractor.
University of Houston Law Center professor Michael Olivas and University of California, Davis School of Law professor Holly Cooper wrote the amicus brief, then circulated it within their network of immigration law professors.
“As a legal educator, I have a real interest in who gets admitted to practice,” said Olivas, who specializes in immigration and higher education law. “Our actions are on behalf of people like [Garcia], even in other licensed professions.”
The amicus brief argues that the California Legislature has repeatedly promoted inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the fabric of life in the state, including public higher education. Additionally, “This Court has embraced the integration of both documented and undocumented immigrants, and recognized the inherent value of permitting their free participation in the social and economic institutions of our State,” the brief says.
Denying Garcia admittance in California will make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to gain admission to law school, since law schools want their graduates to be employable, the brief adds.
Garcia’s family crossed into the United States illegally when he was 17 months old. He went on to graduate from Cal Northern School of Law and pass the state bar examination in July 2009. His admission was held up for two years because he disclosed his undocumented status, but he was sworn in briefly last year before the Committee of Bar Examiners decided to take another look at his situation.
Elsewhere, the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to consider the plight of Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio, an undocumented immigrant who graduated from Florida State University College of Law in 2011 and subsequently passed that state’s bar exam.
In New York, the status of City University of New York School of Law graduate Cesar Vargas remains up in the air due to his status as an undocumented immigrant.
Olivas said he believes the California Supreme Court would uphold Garcia’s right to be admitted to the bar — and that the decision will have a “domino effect.”
“There’s a lot of attention being paid to this right now,” he said.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.