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Undocumented Lawyer Tries to Win His First Case – His Own PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Thursday, 29 August 2013 07:44

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Sergio Garcia shows a blown up replica of the letter from immigration authorities approving his petition for legal residency.

Since the age of 10, Sergio Garcia says he's wanted to fight for other people as a lawyer. But despite having graduated with a law degree and having passed the state bar exam, the 36-yearold still cannot practice law here.

Garcia, who was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. at the age of 1½, is undocumented, and as such is not allowed to apply for a license to practice law in California.

"I've tried to do everything legal. I've waited nearly 20 years. I've studied a lot, for a long time and I've paid myself for my school. Now I want the opportunity to make my dream of helping other immigrants come true," said Garcia during a press conference in the offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

"These young people have given a lot and deserve this," said Jorge Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA.

Garcia, a graduate of Cal State University, Chico and the Cal Northern School of Law, is already putting all those years of education to use, fighting perhaps the most important case of his career – his own.

Garcia has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, trying to change a rule that impedes those undocumented from filing for a license. The California Supreme Court will hear Garcia's case next Wednesday, Sept. 4 – the first time in U.S. history such a lawsuit has reached the courts.

Precedent Setting

Staff attorney Nicholas Espiritu of the National Immigration Law Center said the case could set a precedent that would influence the future of thousands of others undocumented young people who need to get a state license and are benefited by the Deferred Action, the measure approved by President Obama last year that allows undocumented men and women under the age of 30 to live and work in the country legally for two years. The National Immigration Law Center filed an amicus brief, to offer information to assist a court in deciding the matter. The law center does not represent Garcia however.

"The law does not specify the prohibition of a license for lawyers; what it says is that people who are not citizens can not access certain public benefits. The Department of Justice alleges that a lawyer's license is a public benefit," Espiritu said.

The case typifies the thwarted dreams of other undocumented lawyers and doctors, and also illustrates the nation's brokendown immigration system, activists say.

Garcia has been waiting nearly 20 years for immigration to issue him a legal residency card. In 1995, immigration authorities approved a family petition filed on his behalf by his father when Garcia was 17, but there's no visa yet for the category in which he falls.

It is expected that he may get a visa by 2019.

"Sadly, Sergio's case is not an isolated anomaly," Cabrera said. "Many young undocumented men and women studying law or medicine are facing an uncertain future, unable to practice their professions. They are unable to obtain a state license to practice even after they have completed all the necessary requirements.

"The Golden State's High Court must lead on this issue, and let Sergio and young undocumented professionals like him practice for the benefit of all Californians."

Other Support

"As President Obama made clear when he announced a policy of deferred action for undocumented youth, these individuals should be given a way to contribute to society," said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also supports Garcia's case

"Allowing all qualified applicants to practice law will build the legal profession's capacity to deliver legal services to underserved populations, add to the diversity of the Bar, and help facilitate California's economy recovery," Saenz said.

Garcia has taken to the Internet to gather more support for his cause, posting a petition on the website Change.org, where he explains his case in a threeminute video.

"I graduated from law school and the following day was Mother's Day. I decided to give my mom my law degree as a present. I was broke; I didn't have any money. Sadly, even though I have my law degree and passed the bar exam, four years later I still don't have a license due to my undocumented status," he said in the video.

He notes that all he wants is to "become a California licensed attorney to finally work to my full potential and contribute to this great country that has become my own.

"The hardest moment was tasting that dream, having that dream, and have that dream taken away," he adds. At press time the petition, which can be accessed at www.SergiosDream.com had 1,543 signatures.

Garcia, who's been helping other undocumented youth apply for Deferred Action status, says he's confident the state Supreme Court will rule in his favor, recognizing that "we still reward hard work, dedication, community involvement and volunteerism."

CHIRLA is sponsoring a weekend Peoples Summit at Critical Juncture for Immigration Reform, beginning Friday, Aug. 3 for immigrant workers, families, and students at the Pueblo Learning Center, located at 37212 E. 47th St., in Palmdale. The gathering is part of a month-long series of actions to pressure Congress to pass immigration reform with a path toward citizenship, and includes workshops in English and Spanish on how to gain skills, knowledge, and tools to succeed in school, mobilize others, and fight for immigration reform with a path to citizenship in 2013. Rep. Buck McKeon is invited to attend the Aug. 31 community immigration town hall meeting. The summit ends on Monday, Sept. 2. For more information, contact CHIRLA at (213) 353-1333 or (888) 624-4752.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 29 August 2013 22:06