California Bar Supports Law Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In May, we told you that the California Supreme Court will consider whether illegal immigrants can be licensed as attorneys in the state. The court issued an order last month directing the California Committee of Bar Examiners to show cause why the court should grant admit an undocumented immigrant to the California State Bar, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Opening briefs in the case were due Monday, and the Committee of Bar Examiners took a rather interesting approach to its argument supporting law licenses of undocumented immigrants.

The basic requirements for admission to practice law in California are:

  • At least two-years of pre-legal education (e.g. approved college work or its equivalent)
  • Register with the Committee of Bar Examiners.
  • Legal education, (J.D. from accredited law school or four years of law school or law office study).
  • Undergo a background check and receive a positive moral character determination.
  • Pass the necessary examinations, (First-Year Law Students' Exam, Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and the California Bar Exam).
  • Comply with California court-ordered child or family support obligations.
  • Provide a Social Security number or request an exemption.

Legal residency, you may have noticed, is not on the list. According to the Committee of Bar Examiners brief, that means that illegal immigrants can be licensed to practice law, even if they don't have a legal right to work, reports the ABA Journal.

That distinction is important because the California Supreme Court will not only be considering whether state or federal laws preclude the court from admitting an undocumented immigrant to the bar, but whether a law license would impliedly represent that an attorney can be legally employed.

The applicant at the center of this case, Sergio Garcia, is an undocumented immigrant who has passed the California bar and the moral examination. His application to the California Bar, however, has stalled due to his immigration status. Garcia's parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 17 months old, and he has been waiting for a Green Card for 17 years, according to the ABA Journal.

Garcia told that he is encouraged by the Committee of Bar Examiners brief in support of law licenses for undocumented immigrants. "I have always been an eternal optimist so this (bar recommendation) does give me hope."

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