Editor's note: After this essay was completed, the California Legislature passed AB 1024, which enables undocumented immigrants to obtain law licenses. The California Supreme Court, which holds the power to grant law licenses, will have to determine whether the new law allows it to admit Sergio Garcia to the State Bar of California.
Like a gladiator walking into a modern-day arena, I confidently entered the California Supreme Court chambers on September 4 ready to fight for my dream. However, I was not facing another fighter, but a piece of law signed by former President Bill Clinton — specifically, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. It is a law that, in my opinion, never had the intention of depriving hard-working members of society from fulfilling their dreams.
Now, this same law is the only thing that keeps me away from mine — becoming a licensed attorney.
The faith I had placed in the system that I fight to be a part of quickly vanished when I saw the response of the court.
It is hard to believe this dream started back when I was a 10-year-old child. Now, 26 years later and with scars from many battles, I am stronger and more committed to that innocent dream of working as a lawyer in America. I arrived in this great nation at age 17, and my father, who is now a U.S. citizen, applied to adjust my status on November 18, 1994. That application was approved just two months later.
And yet, here I remain, still waiting for that elusive green card that will permit me to become a practicing attorney. I am standing in a line, which moves at a turtle's pace, for a green card designed for those 21 and over — a wait that is likely to take six more years before reaching the finish line. But I will not give up.
On my day in court earlier this month, the lawyers fighting my cause were quickly cut down by the tough questions, launched at them like arrows, from the justices. Reading between the lines, I soon realized that this court did not believe it had the authority to provide the signature that would allow me to fulfill my lifetime dream of becoming an attorney, even though failing to do so would have a chilling effect on our youth's desire to reach their own dreams.
Due to the strict rules of court and limited time, I did not have the opportunity to argue my own case. (I would've had only 10 minutes to develop my argument, and I deferred to counsel to use that time.)
However, I was determined to have my day in court, even if that court was the one of public opinion and not of law. Disappointed, but unfazed, I met the news media outside the courthouse. One of the reporters asked, "How did you feel in there?" to which I replied, "It was a tough crowd, but nothing we were not prepared for."
But the reality was that I'd had much higher expectations of this court. I always say, "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst," and that is exactly what I had done.
If I'd had the opportunity to speak to the justices, I would have argued that the spirit of the law in question, the true intent, was never to deprive someone like me of my dream. Instead, it was meant to prevent people from becoming a burden on the state. Having never received any type of financial aid from the government, I can never fall within the intent of said law. Quite the contrary, I am an entrepreneur, a job creator, a tax-paying member of society. But the court was not interested in my story. There was no room for the human factor in their chambers. I guess it is always easier to make a decision if you do not have to consider that someone's life is actually being affected by it.
I have complied with every requirement under the law. I have spent a lifetime educating myself, believing in an implied contract met by my performance — getting and paying for my education, passing the California bar exam on the first try and being ready, willing and able to contribute to this great country.
And even after seeing the court's response to my application for admission, I remain optimistic that the justices will make a decision based on what is right.
But I'm not taking any chances; instead, I will help them by securing the support of the California Legislature for legislation establishing that one's undocumented status does not block admission to the bar. It is an option expressly authorized and acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Justice, which nevertheless opposes my obtaining a law license.
With every challenge, we have an opportunity to grow and become stronger. This experience has allowed me to realize that there is no barrier, no opposition strong enough to keep me away from my dream.
I have waited nearly 19 years, living in limbo, a prisoner of an immigration system that only works for those profiting from it, a system that trades human suffering for dollars.
I will one day be sworn in, either by legislative enactment, by fighting at the U.S. Supreme Court or simply waiting for my priority date to arrive. The only constant and certain thing in this David-versus-Goliath battle is my unwavering commitment to protecting the American Dream for generations to come.
Sergio C. Garcia was born in Villa Jimenez, Michoacan, Mexico, and received his juris doctor degree in 2009 from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico, Calif. He passed the California bar examination that same year.