Since the California State Legislature took matters into its own hands and passed AB 1024 allowing applicants who satisfy admission requirements — but who are not lawfully present in the United States to be admitted as attorneys in California, no further can kicking down the road was needed. Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1024 into law on October 5th.
So this morning — one day after AB1024 officially became law and in a move that surprised few, the California Supreme Court handed down its decision, In re Garcia on Admission. And with the following words took the lead from the pols in Sacramento and granted undocumented immigrant Sergio C. Garcia admission to practice law in California.
“Our order to show cause requested briefing on a number of issues raised by the Committee’s motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar, including the proper interpretation of a federal statute — section 1621 of title 8 of the United States Code (hereafter section 1621) — that generally restricts an undocumented immigrant’s eligibility to obtain a professional license but that also contains a subsection expressly authorizing a state to render an undocumented immigrant eligible to obtain such a professional license through the enactment of a state law meeting specified requirements. Very shortly after we held oral argument in this matter, the California Legislature enacted a statute that was intended to satisfy this aspect of section 1621 and the Governor signed that legislation into law. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6064, subd. (b); Stats. 2013, ch. 573, § 1, enacting Assem. Bill No. 1024 (2013-2014 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 6, 2013.) The new legislation became effective on January 1, 2014.
“In light of the recently enacted state legislation, we conclude that the Committee’s motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar should be granted. The new legislation removes any potential statutory obstacle to Garcia’s admission posed by section 1621, and there is no other federal statute that purports to preclude a state from granting a license to practice law to an undocumented immigrant. The new statute also reflects that the Legislature and the Governor have concluded that the admission of an undocumented immigrant who has met all the qualifications for admission to the State Bar is fully consistent with this state’s public policy, and, as this opinion explains, we find no basis to disagree with that conclusion. Finally, we agree with the Committee’s determination that Garcia possesses the requisite good moral character to warrant admission to the State Bar and, pursuant to our constitutional authority, grant the Committee’s motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar.”
On Facebook, the elated Garcia posted,“With tears in my eyes I’m happy to report I am being admitted to the bar, thank God! This one is for all of you who dare to dream and by doing so change the world! Love you all! History was made today!” And so with all of the turmoil and the controversy now behind him, look for paralegal Sergio Garcia to be at long last sworn in as a California lawyer.
In its first footnote, the Court also made a point of shying away, no doubt to the annoyance of many, especially here in Arizona, of shorthand terms like “illegal alien.” It instead opted to avoid “the potential problematical connotations of alternative terms” and adopted the term undocumented immigrant “to refer to a non-United States citizen who is in the United States but who lacks the immigration status required by federal law to be lawfully present in this country and who has not been admitted on a temporary basis as a nonimmigrant.”
The Court then acknowledged that the federal government has “plenary authority” on immigration and “that provisions of federal law relating to immigration prevail over any conflicting state law.” But thanks to California’s new law, it did not have to delve into how best to interpret 8 USC § 1621 (c) (1) (A), which renders an undocumented immigrant ineligible for any State or local public benefit such as a professional license.
Section 1621(d) grants States the authority to make “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States” eligible for any State or local public benefit they might otherwise be ineligible for under 1621’s subsections (a) and (d).
No moral turpitude involved.
And with respect to how an undocumented immigrant having broken federal immigration law by his unauthorized presence in the U.S. can nonetheless be sworn to uphold the law — the Court said that since unlawful unauthorized presence “does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness,” it does not “justify exclusion from the State Bar, or prevent the individual from taking an oath promising faithfully to discharge the duty to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and California.”
The Court further said that “existing federal limitations on the employment of undocumented immigrants do not justify excluding undocumented immigrants from admission to the State Bar.”
There’s scarcely any doubt that the California high court’s precedential decision today will also help other undocumented law graduates like Cesar Vargas and Jose Godinez-Samperio in other states. As I posted in May 2012, while California decisions are not dispositive in other jurisdictions, state courts do tend to pay attention to what California does. So thanks to the California Supreme Court’s decision, Sergio Garcia’s case has again taken on a much more momentous dimension.