Do you know the name of Sergio Garcia? If you don’t know him now, you likely will be hearing lots about him in weeks and months to come. He is the first undocumented person to be admitted to the bar and licensed to practice law in the United States.
Garcia came to the United States as a child with his parents, completed his education, worked his way through college and law school, and lived his life adhering to acts of good character. But since he was not a legal citizen, he wasn’t allowed to take the bar exam. That was due to a 1996 federal law, 8 USC 1621, that places significant restrictions on any undocumented persons who seek a professional license, such as required for the practice of law. A clause in the law authorizes a state to establish it’s on exemptions through enacting a law permitting it. Well, that’s what happened with Garcia. The California Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision to admit Garcia to the State Bar, granting him a license to practice law in the state.
This law obviously won’t have any direct impact on other states. But it is certainly an interesting development, especially now with the strong opinions on both sides of immigration reform. One question that comes up in this case is Garcia’s ability to comply with his State Bar oath, especially the part that says, ”I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States…” How can he fulfill this if he is not a legal citizen? The argument some people make is that matters of citizenship are not included in the Constitution. That’s true enough, indeed. But is it? Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution grants Congress the right to regulate immigration. This was further clarified in the case, Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, 426 U.S. 88. Regardless, and whatever people might think of granting a non-citizen a license to practice law (or any other career field), I suspect that this sort of thing may likely happen a lot more frequently than some people would like to see.
This is something we’ll need to watch and see how it unfolds. The legislation that barred non-citizens from obtaining a professional license does provide a loophole a state chooses to permit it. I wonder if the opponents will want to amend that legislation.