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Undocumented immigrant granted law license in California

An undocumented immigrant who went to law school in the US and passed the bar exam has been granted his law license.
January 2, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
An undocumented immigrant who went to law school in the United States and passed the state bar exam has been granted his law license, according to a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the court ruled that Sergio Garcia can begin practicing law despite his immigration status. The court's decision was unanimous.

Garcia, 36, came to the U.S. illegally when he was 17 months old to pick almonds with his father.

He passed the grueling California State Bar exam on his first try, but couldn't open a practice until he received a law license.

He challenged the 1996 law that bars people living in the country illegally from receiving "professional licenses" from government agencies, or with the use of public funds, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.

Shortly after the court heard arguments in the case, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state law that authorized the granting of the license to applicants who are not lawfully present in the U.S., but have fulfilled the requirements to practice law. The new law went into effect Jan. 1.

The Obama administration opposed licensing Garcia, but state bar officials and California's attorney general supported Garcia. They argued that citizenship status is not a requirement to receive a California law license.

Garcia worked in fields and at a grocery store before attending community college. He became a paralegal, went to law school and passed the bar on his first try. He applied for citizenship in 1994, and is still working toward that goal.

The 36-year-old says his case is about showing other immigrants that hard work and dedication mean something in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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