Calif. grants law license to undocumented immigrant


by Alan Gomez / USA TODAY

Posted on January 2, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 2 at 4:38 PM

(USA TODAY) -- The California Supreme Court on Thursday granted a law license to an undocumented immigrant, a first-of-its-kind ruling that allows Sergio Garcia to practice law in his adopted state.

But the question remains: Can he find work as a lawyer?

The court ruled that a combination of federal and state laws allow for Garcia, who was first brought to the U.S. by his parents from Mexico when he was 17 months old, to obtain the law license necessary for him to practice law in California.

The opinion was not so clear on how he can use that license.

Garcia, the justices wrote, cannot work as an employee of a law firm or any other company because of his undocumented status — federal law prohibits businesses from hiring undocumented immigrants, and he remains in that status. The opinion said he could do legal work on a pro bono basis.

The opinion was unclear, however, on another option: whether Garcia and others in his position can work as lawyers on their own, retaining their own clients.

"We assume that a licensed undocumented immigrant will make all necessary inquiries and take appropriate steps to comply with applicable legal restrictions and will advice potential clients of any possible adverse or limiting effect the attorney's immigration status may pose," the opinion read.

"This is not completely cut and dried," said Deep Gulasekaram, who teaches immigration and constitutional law at the Santa Clara University School of Law and has been following Garcia's case.

Gulasekaram said potential clients would not endanger themselves by hiring Garcia, or any other undocumented immigrant that has been granted a law license. Businesses are required to check the immigration status of prospective employees, but regular citizens entering into contracts do not.

"If you enter a contract, you're not required to go get a Social Security number of the person you contracted with, or maintain records of their status," he said. "They're not tasked with figuring out if he's undocumented."

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