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.