Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Several weeks ago, I heard the following podcast on the local NPR Station and was so moved by Mario’s story I was compelled to reach out to author at Open Conversation to ask permission to reblog it. She graciously gave permission.

This being Thanksgiving week, I can think of no better time than today to share it.


Listen to Open Conversation episodes also every other Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.

Note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the story to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.

RR: “I’ve been to the Citizenship Oath Ceremony. As many others I volunteered to tell my story on that day. It’s an emotional moment, a milestone for many; a culmination of life-changing events and hard decisions that preceded that day. Mario vaguely remembers the trip to the border.”

Mario: “The way that I remember is we went by land, we went by sea and then we went by land all the way through Mexico.”

RR: “Although he says one detail from the journey stands out.”

Mario: “Being with my mom underneath a bus, where they put the luggage and stuff. There’s no windows, but there was a red light. All I remember seeing was the red light for like the longest time.”

RR: “They applied for asylum followed by years of waiting.”

Mario: “When I was signing my papers, because they make you sign, ‘you gotta sign really good right here, the President is gonna see this.’ I’m like a little kid, I have the worst handwriting. Like I have a lot of pressure to sign a piece of paper.”

RR: “And at the end was denial. The family was granted a ‘voluntary departure,’ which means one has to be out of the United States within a certain timeframe.”

Mario: “We’ve never went back. It was not the nicest area where we lived, it was pretty rough, so one of the outlets that we had was actually going to karate classes.”

RR: “He and his sister ended up representing the USA at the Junior Olympics. Both of them won gold.”

Mario: “But then it got back that you get picked to go and we couldn’t go because we didn’t have papers.”

RR: “And the thread of working hard for something and at the end not being able to enjoy the outcomes – it kept persisting. Like the time when he excelled at the high school exit exam, was granted a scholarship from Governor to go to college.”

Mario: “And I remember typing in, you know, my information and trying to get the scholarship and it just kept saying denied. I sat there, I got really scared, I started looking around because I don’t know if somebody else saw it. And I was worried maybe it was going to call somebody to come get me. I kind of felt embarrassed at some point because having to tell people all the time, well, I’m not here legally. You kind of do live in the shadows a little bit.”

RR: “You face obstacles at every turn, Mario says. But I get it, he adds, and I learned to live with it.”

Mario: “I just, I said we can’t keep doing this. We have to go and revisit our case. So we appealed it, I remember going in front of the judge and the judge is like, oh, this case has been around since like the early nineties. You know what, from this day forward you guys are legal residents of the United States and that was such a relief. The first thing I do is going to apply for FAFSA and apply to ASU again and I got in again.

“I graduated school in 2013. It took years and years, you know, a degree that should have taken four years to do, took me almost eight. Like you want to be at a certain level and you have so many obstacles. And finally getting there. It’s really good, it’s a good feeling. it wasn’t until about October of last year that I finally qualified for the five years as a resident to apply for citizenship. And as soon as, the date to the date that it hit I put my application in right away, I’m like here you go. And I got my interview, I went there. The gentleman, he said: ‘Did you have time to study?’ and my response was: ‘All my life.’ I studied all my life… As of two months ago I became a US citizen.”

RR: “Can you tell me more about the day of the ceremony?”

Mario: “That’s… that’s a good one. That morning actually I went to work with my dad. I remember I was like, man, on the day of my citizenship here I am, cleaning carpets and sweating. So we got done. We’re sitting in that room. The judge comes in, and they’re like: ‘We’d like to ask volunteers to go up here and give their story. As soon as I get up to the podium, the first person I see is my dad. And that just hit me, and I started to choke up and I was telling people: ‘Even on the day of the citizenship I was working with my dad. Early in the morning, my brother is ten years old, he was working with us. And they always said hard work. Hard work and we put in a lot of hard work.

“After I spoke the judge had a few words and he pointed out my speech and said: ‘You know, this is why this country is so great.’

“Sometimes I don’t feel that I can say I’m Guatemalan because I never grew up there. When people ask me: ‘Where are you from?’ I say I am from the United States. And that’s something really, really powerful for me and something that I really cherish, that I can call this country my home.”

music by Dana Boule, Circus Marcus

recorded, produced by Regina Revazova


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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.

Judges Gavel“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.

j0289753“Undocumented immigrant.”

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  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.

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Getting admitted to practice law can be challenging. In most jurisdictions, it means not only succeeding on a rigorous bar exam but also passing a moral character and fitness evaluation. And contrary to Bette Midler who once said, “I have my standards. They’re low, but I have them,” most jurisdictions do impose comparatively high standards on who can practice as a lawyer in a given state.

Several years ago in Arizona, for example, the case of In re: James Joseph Hamm resulted in denying James Hamm, a candidate for bar admission, a license to practice in Arizona. Hamm was denied admission because of a first-degree murder conviction arising out of a 1974 drug deal and robbery.

As the Arizona Supreme Court has stated in assessing such attorney admission cases, “The central component of our assessment is, all times, protection of the public.” See In re Arrotta, 208 Ariz. 509, 512 (2004). Also see In re King,  212 Ariz. 559 (2006) and In re Lazcano 223 Ariz. 280 (2010).

“What was my moral duty at 17 months?”

But in California, the Golden State’s Committee of Bar Examiners is now facing a historic issue. It is a question of apparent first-impression, Can an Undocumented Immigrant Be Admitted to Practice? California Supreme Court Must Decide.”

In asking the question, the Committee seeks a conclusive answer to make its Determination of Moral Character in the application of Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who wants to be a lawyer but who unlawfully entered this country with his parents when he was 17 months and as one of my buddies used to say, “no bigger than a Fried Minnow.”

(I refer, of course, to ‘the other Sergio Garcia,‘ a wanna-be California lawyer and not the famous PGA golfer from Spain, Sergio Garcia Fernández).

Lawyer-candidate Garcia told the Daily Journal that he has been waiting for permanent legal residency for 17 years and with respect to the bar’s character evaluation, in echoes of the Debate over the Dream Act, he questions whether it’s right to impose a moral duty on a blameless baby brought unlawfully into the U.S. through no fault of his own. He asks, “What was my moral duty at 17 months?”

But on the other hand, this poses another conundrum. That “a person who is charged with upholding the law and administering the judicial system” as an officer of the court would himself be outside the law is enough to warrant news headlines and head-shaking perplexity from the proverbial person on the street.

What’s good moral character?

For those wanting to practice law in California, California’s Determination of Moral Character is an extensive gauntlet. It asks for detailed information from as far back as high school, including all residential addresses and employment, DMV Clearance and positive character references from friends, past employers, and even a clean bill of ethical health from the law school the applicant attended.

Drunks, deadbeats, druggies, deceivers, and of course, convicted felons, will face a high hurdle. Also see Debra Murphy Lawson’s “Tales from the Character and Fitness Trenches.”

“Good moral character” includes but is not limited to qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others and the judicial process.” See Chapter 4, Rule 4.40 Moral Character Determination, ADMISSION TO PRACTICE LAW IN CALIFORNIA

A frothing issue.

But since we live in times where illegal immigration causes many to lather up and froth at the mouth, this makes the case of wanna-be lawyer Sergio Garcia especially astounding in its provocations.

Already in other states, for instance, to show they aren’t second-rate pikers to Arizona’s SB 1070, some state legislatures have passed new laws to crack down or chill illegal immigration. These include what’s being termed a “Controversial Georgia Immigration Law and in “Alabama, the nation’s toughest immigration law.”

So how Garcia’s undocumented immigrant’s candidacy for admission to practice law plays out in California will be closely-watched. Politics and contentious national polemics aside, because of his emigrant past, California’s Committee of Bar Examiners holds his future in the balance.

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