August 14, 2012

U.S. Department of Justice opposes undocumented immigrant’s effort to obtain a California law license

We’ve been following the case of Sergio Garcia, a 35 year-old undocumented immigrant who is seeking to practice law in California. You may recall that, in May, the California Supreme Court ordered the Committee of Bar Examiners to show cause why Garcia should be admitted to the State Bar.

So what’s the latest? As recently reported in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Journal [subscription required] and elsewhere, the Obama Administration has weighed in and, in a surprising move given recent changes in federal immigration policy, has come down in opposition to Garcia’s bid for bar membership. In an amicus curiae brief filed last week, the Department of Justice argues the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, 8 U.S.C. section 1621, prohibits state agencies from providing public benefits, including professional licenses, to most undocumented immigrants, and therefore bars California from issuing Garcia a law license. However, Garcia’s supporters—and he has many—argue the law doesn’t apply to attorney admissions because the California Supreme Court—which issues law licenses—is not a “state agency.” The Department of Justice responds that law licenses are within the statute’s proscription because the Court is funded by state funds. Garcia’s supporters dispute that, noting the State Bar is funded by member dues.

Retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who now practices law at Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles, prepared an amicus curiae brief in support of Garcia on behalf of numerous bar associations. The Daily Journal reports that Moreno was “surprised and disappointed” by the DoJ’s brief, and that he thought the federal government “‘would take a neutral position.’” The Times quotes Justice Moreno as saying of the DoJ’s brief, “It does seem contrary to recent efforts by the Obama administration to make immigrants like Garcia a low (enforcement) priority,” and “[i]f you take the broad interpretation they are taking, it could have wide ramifications for cities and counties and hundreds of professions that require some kind of license.”

UPDATE: The Supreme Court recently made all briefs filed in Garcia, including that filed by the Department of Justice, available on its website.


2 Responses to “U.S. Department of Justice opposes undocumented immigrant’s effort to obtain a California law license”

  1. While disappointing, the Department of Justice was just doing what it usually does – pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda when provided the opportunity. For example, almost 35% of all federal criminal cases prosecuted by the DOJ in 2011 were immigration violations. In contrast, only 13% of the cases were white-collar crimes, and less than 10% were firearms offenses. Immigration violators were prosecuted by the DOJ 3:2 compared to cocaine/crack/heroin & meth felons combined! See, Federal Sentencing Statistics, FY 2011. This pattern is not an Obama Administrative phenomenon – it has worsened over time under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The DOJ should have stayed out of the Garcia matter in deference to states’ longstanding authority to regulate who is and isn’t admissible to a state’s bar. Having been brought to this country as a minor, it is undisputed that Mr. Garcia has committed no crime; he is engaged in the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services’ protracted administrative process for obtaining a visa; and he is qualified for admission to the State Bar under the criteria applied in California for many years. It’s sad to see the interests of justice, fairness, community welfare – and even the Constitutional separation of powers doctrine – superseded by anti-immigrant bias. Our nation was developed through immigration, and individuals like Mr. Garcia have much to contribute. Hopefully the California Supreme Court will agree with the righteous positions advanced on Mr. Garcia’s behalf, and by the California State Bar, the California Attorney General, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and many other regional bar groups, and almost a dozen leading public interest groups.

  2. […] argument agreement on that point by the attorney for amicus curiae United States, which was opposing Garcia’s admission.  If the court first wants the United States’ agreement in […]

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