Published August 13, 2012
The Justice Department is dashing the hopes of undocumented immigrants who want to practice law in the United States.
In a brief to the California Supreme Court, the Justice Departments says undocumented immigrants cannot practice law because they are not legally entitled to benefits administered by public agencies—including bar licenses.
The amicus brief, reported by The Los Angeles Times, challenges the position of Sergio Garcia—a 35-year-old immigrant who fell out of status as a minor.
Federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from making use of public benefits issued by a state agency for other entity funded by the U.S. or state governments. The Justice Department argues that the law bars Garcia from receiving a license to practice law, because the California courts receive federal funds.
“These provisions were plainly designed to preclude undocumented aliens from receiving commercial and professional licenses issued by States and the federal government,” the brief says.
The restriction on extending certain public benefits to undocumented immigrants can be removed by state law, the brief argues, though no such law for bar licenses exists in California.
The California case could have implications for undocumented immigrants who practice other professions, a retired justice told The Los Angeles Times.
"If 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," retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
It’s unclear whether the Obama administration’s new policy to defer deportation for immigrants who came to the country illegally would allow eligible applicants to practice law.
Garcia may not qualify for deferred deportation, however. Though he was brought to the United States when he was 17 months old, he returned to Mexico at age 9 and then re-entered the United States at age 17, according to The Los Angeles Times. The eligibility criteria for deportation deferral released by the Obama administration require the applicant to have immigrated at age 16 or younger.
Garcias case is well known in California, where several prominent politicians and even the state Attorney General backed his bid to receive a law license.
The courts have yet to rule on his case, but he is not the only undocumented immigrant waiting to see if he needs to wait for federal immigration reform before receiving permission to practice the profession he studied for.
Jose Godinez-Samperio has also asked the state of Florida for permission to practice law, despite being an undocumented immigrant.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners said the Mexican immigrant appears to qualify for a bar license, but the board wants an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court before making a final decision.
Read the brief below.