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Undocumented immigrant fights for chance to be lawyer in California

September 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
An undocumented immigrant is fighting for the opportunity to become an attorney in California.

Sergio Garcia came to the U.S. illegally as a toddler, attended law school and passed the state bar exam. Garcia has taken his fight to become an attorney to the state's highest court.

On Wednesday, Garcia's lawyer and others fighting on his behalf in front of the California Supreme Court argue he should be able to get his license to practice law even though he is an undocumented immigrant.

"This case raises the ever vital question whether there is or should be a rule solely on the basis of immigration status," said James Wagstaffe with the California State Bar.

Garcia was first brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 17 months old. He eventually worked his way through college and law school before passing the California bar exam on his first try. But Garcia can't open a practice until he gets a law license.

The committee overseeing the bar recommends he be granted membership, but the final say goes to the California Supreme Court. It will decide if an undocumented immigrant can join the state bar. We caught up with Garcia right after the hearing.

"I'm very confident at the end of the day that the court is going to make the right decision. I think that the wonderful message that can be sent today is if you work hard, if you persevere and you don't ever give up, you still can make your American dream a reality independently, whether you have the blessing of being born in this country or not," said Garcia.

The Obama administration is urging the state Supreme Court to block his admission to the bar because giving an undocumented immigrant a California law license violates a 1996 federal law, which denies giving "public benefits" to illegal immigrants.

The state Supreme Court must make a decision within 90 days. Garcia hopes it will come sooner.


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